A Word About Death
“He descended to the dead, and on the third day He rose”,
so say millions of Christians each and every week in the Apostles’ Creed.
But what does this mean?
Among many truths, it means this: Christians view death in a way peculiar to the world.
In the ancient church, Jesus’ triumph over death produced peculiar attitudes and practices towards death, like assembling for prayer in tombs, worshiping Jesus among the bones, and at funerals gazing lovingly over the bodies of the dead while singing Psalms.
In our modern moment, where death totals run below TV’s talking heads 24/7, Christians must carry on our historically peculiar attitudes towards the grave,
because for us, those who have died with Christ, death is a paradoxical victory.
Goodbye to Goodbyes
I’ve served many funerals for unbelievers and they are not happy events. Tears, wailing, and despair, are all present. They are sad and somber moments.
Now certainly, those things can be true of Christian funerals, but at a Christian funeral, the air is always different. When we sing at Christian funerals, we sing loud, and even as we’re crying, we’re simultaneously filled with joy.
Reese men are criers. If you’ve seen my dad pray for the offering at church or my uncle Rod talk about students at school, it’s a water park.
I am not that way.
But at one particular funeral, I cried. Like, cried cried.
At Wilma Evans’ service (a long time church member), I did pretty good right up until the end. I led the prayers, songs, obit, and preached the good news; no sweat.
But when I noticed the dam breaking for several in our congregation who knew and loved her dearly in this life, I knew my moment was on its way.
What finally released the river was the moment her late husband Clinton rolled his wheelchair to to her coffin.
In that moment I was filled with deep sadness, he had lost his wife and closest friend, but also great joy, because Jesus made sure that wouldn’t be the last time they’d see each other.
Ain't No Grave
Because Jesus died, for us, death is victory.
Where others see an end, we see a beginning.
“Death is serious”, Ben Myers writes, “but not as serious as life”.
Because Jesus rose on the third day, death is no longer the ultimate power in the world and Christians do not treat it like it is.
In the fourth century Athanasius wrote:
“If you see children praying with a lion, don’t you know that lion must either be dead or completely powerless? In the same way...when you see Christ’s believers playing with death...there can be no doubt that death has been destroyed by Christ and that its corruption has been dissolved and brought to an end.”
Because Christ rose on the third day, we can sing with Johnny Cash,
"There ain't no grave can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave can hold my body down
When I hear that trumpet sound
Ain't not grave can hold my body down"
Because Christ rose on the third day, we can say with the Apostle Paul,
"Where O Death is our victory?
Where O Death is your sting?"
Christian, Christ has conquered the grave.
Christ has conquered death.
Come what may, COVID-19, or whatever else, new bodies, new heavens, new earth, new life, await the saints of God.
Until He Comes,