As we wrap up Easter week, though still just beginning the 40-day Easter season, I'm stuck on the lyrics from one worship song:
"Oh, Death, where is your sting?" (from Matt Maher's Christ is Risen)
Actually, death does sting. I've just come from the funeral of a dear young man, the teenaged son of friends with whom my husband and I have shared life for all of our 18-year marriage. Last summer I said goodbye to three other friends and family members, two suddenly and one after a long illness.
I'm done with death, thank you very much.
But Maher uses the phrase rhetorically, as the victorious melody suggests. He quotes 1 Corinthians 15:55. In the passage surrounding this verse, the apostle Paul is comforting his readers with the promise that Jesus is coming back, that His resurrection foretells our resurrection. If we are not raptured, we—"the dead in Christ," those who loved, followed, and trusted in Jesus—will be raised to life with new, indestructible, immortal bodies. At that moment, Paul says, quoting Isaiah 25:8, "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (v 53).
He then turns to Hosea 13:14 and repeats, "Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?" (vv 54-55).
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law," he continues in verse 56. Those who die still under the law—that is, not enjoying the gift of grace embodied in Jesus' sacrificial death—will indeed feel a (permanent) sting. Death only "wins" over those who don't know Jesus.
Paul concludes his encouragement with, "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (v 57).
The hope of Easter, of the Resurrection, evokes several emotions in me. Perhaps you've felt similarly:
1. It comforts me: Of the four people I've lost in the past year, I know for sure that two of them loved Jesus. They are with him now, enjoying perfect peace and joy as they await the fulfillment of God's plan. "Christ is risen from the dead, we are one with him again, come awake, come awake, come and rise up from the grave!"
2. It saddens me. It's possible the other two loved Jesus as well, but I just don't know. I wasn't close enough to them, relationally or physically, to have those conversations. So I wonder, and fear for them, and pray that their faith was in Christ, not themselves.