Saint Paul says the wages of sin is death. Sin is one long parade of unending misery. Sin is snake venom. Sin not only brings sickness, it also brings death. Every funeral procession is a proclamation of the final result of sin. We carry a dead person to the cemetery, lay them in his bed six feet under, and after time the body will turn to dust. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes chapter twelve: the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata number 106 is his so-called “funeral cantata”. Woven throughout the cantata are Bible verses dealing with death. In him we live and move and have our being…as long as God wills. Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover. Even the Apocrypha makes an appearance: The decree from of old is, “You will surely die!”
In the midst of these verses come the familiar words of the Nunc Dimittis in Luke chapter two that we sing after receiving the Lord’s Supper. The antidote to sin and death is Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Nevertheless, we must not treat death as child’s play, like Agag does in First Samuel chapter 15 when he says Surely the bitterness of death is past as Samuel approaches him. Samuel has no mercy on Agag and hacks him to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal after he deals with a disobedient King Saul.
Even with the comfort of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, will you spend the rest of your life afraid of death? There is help and rescue in Jesus Christ. There is sure, Gospel comfort against temporal death.
Death is not destruction for a Christian. Death is deliverance. Death is making way for something greater that will come. Consider this stanza from the hymn “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me”:
Death cannot destroy forever;
From our fears, Cares, and tears
It will us deliver.
It will close life’s mournful story,
Make a way That we may
Enter heavenly glory.
These words are not welcome in a world that both glamorizes death, as well as tries to ignore death. We Christians, however, pray for a blessed death. Granted we would like that death to happen at a ripe age, but death comes when God so wills.
The raising of the only son of the widow of Nain is a look ahead to the glorious Day of Resurrection when all the dead in Christ shall rise and be changed into immortal beings. The resurrection of the dead still wouldn’t be a comforting then unless we believe also that they, and we, shall always be with the Lord. Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Resurrection is that simple for Jesus. He says the word and dead live. He is, after all, the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of the new creation sent by the Father into this world to die for sin and rise for our justification.
Our sinful flesh can’t quite reconcile resurrection with death. You know that at the end of the road is an end. You are marching to that end right now. For some the end comes after a long journey. For others the end comes quickly and unexpected, with no chance to say goodbye. For the Christian under God’s grace given in Jesus Christ, the end, whether expected or unexpected, is not the end. It’s a beginning of something that is yours now, but not yet. The fancy fifty-dollar phrase is “inaugurated eschatology”. The easy way to explain it is to say “Now, but not yet.”
Eternal life is yours now because of Jesus Christ. You hold fast to Him in life and in death. Jesus is your only hope for eternity with the heavenly Father. This is reality: a reality won for you with a full-bodied cross and an empty-bodied tomb. This reality, however, is not yet yours. The emphasis is on the word “yet”. “Yet”, in this case, means “coming soon”. When a new business opens there is anticipation for something that is going to happen, but not right now. So it is with eternal life. You live in ready anticipation for Jesus’ arrival to judge the living and the dead. This event will happen. It’s only a matter of time; God’s time.
While waiting for the fullness of time, you practice the art of dying. You live in your baptism, rejoicing in heavenly citizenship through Jesus Christ. You live by faith in the Son of God Who gives you His Good News of forgiveness of sins and new life in Him. You eat His Body, drink His blood, receive His forgiveness in Absolution, and sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. You meditate on His words penned by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You chew on those words, savoring every morsel of what they say about your future. The Church has a future because Christ has a future. Your future, Christ’s future, is eternity in the presence of God Almighty.
The art of living well is good. The art of dying well is even better, for dying means living to a Christian. As one of the stanzas of the hymn, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense” says: “Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave/And at death no longer tremble.” Now isn’t that something! We laugh at the grave. That’s the last thing anyone should do at a cemetery. But that’s what we get to do in Christ. The grave is a bed. Test my words to you today against the witness of Jesus and the widow’s son at Nain. He lives. Everyone rejoices. You live.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.