Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death and Victory: for Oma

Mathilde Margarethe Monika (Steinkohl) Bork, my maternal grandmother, died on Sunday, July 19th--her eighty-fourth birthday. After losing her husband of sixty-one years and in near-blindness and ailing health, "Oma" simply gave up her will to live. She died a peaceful, dignified death, surrounded in her last days by her family and loved ones.

I didn't cry.

After receiving the dreaded phone call from my younger brother Jordan, Olivia and I drove over to the hospital to be with my mom and uncle. We prayed for a while as I stroked Oma's hair and kissed her forehead goodbye.

Staring in the face the reality of death, the only thing I could think about was this: Jesus really rose from the grave. To this day I have no explanation why; even the best apologetics cannot stand. But all I know and am convinced of, without any explanation, is that Jesus is truly living and has triumphed over death itself, making a mockery of it. In what is one of the greatest Easter homilies of all time, John Chrysostom wrote thus:

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell* when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

* * *

This Sunday, which will be our last gathered with the saints at New Song, is Communion Sunday. How fitting! For we will feast when God wipes out death (see Isaiah 25:6-9). Death, which once swallowed men in its insatiable appetite (Isaiah 5:14), is now itself swallowed in Christ's victory! I rejoice that what is fed to us by Jesus in this Meal, his broken body and poured-out blood for our forgiveness and life, is what (or rather who) will bring us into the Wedding Feast of life everlasting, where death is abolished. Right now I feel a craving for this meal as the comforting promise of life beyond death--the promise of my life in Christ.

"I thank You for the body and the blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord. I go to His holy Supper as though I were going to my own death, so that I might go to my death as though going to His holy Supper. Surely, my cup overflows with mercy, and I can depart in peace, according to Your Word." ("Devotion at the Approach of Death," from The Lutheran Book of Prayer)

*Other translations of Chrysostom's sermon render "Hell" as "Hades," which is probably more correct. (Chrysostom spoke Greek.) Hades represented not only the dark realm of the dead separated from the joys of life, but also Death itself as a consuming power. To those who think of this as a Greek abstraction foisted upon Christianity from without, you will note that the ancient Hebrew concepts of Sheol (death as a realm) and Abbadon (death as a destructive power) were very similar.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, brother! Good words.

Praying for you and yours.

Halfmom said...

I cried.