Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Death: The Last Enemy to be Destroyed

Pastor’s Window for March 2010
Death: The Last Enemy to be Destroyed

Beloved in the Lord,

On Ash Wednesday we gathered together to mark the beginning of another penitential season of Lent. We confessed our sins and heard the absolution. We read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested the saving Word of the Lord. We received the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine. But as is our custom, we were also marked with ashes in the sign of the cross, and these words were pronounced upon us: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

In other words, remember that you will die. Unless our Lord Jesus returns first, every one of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. We all have to die, because we are sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Dust to dust, ashes to ashes… Ash Wednesday offers a sobering reminder of our own mortality. As I’ve come to know and love all of you, it gets harder and harder every year to mark your forehead and remind you of your impending death. And when I get to my wife and my precious little daughters… It is not a pretty thought.

Humans in general, and Americans in particular, especially Americans of the modern/post-modern stripe, don’t like to talk about death. The very word, “death,” strikes us as harsh. We don’t like to use it when speaking of those whose bodies have expired. But we should talk about death, because it is a reality every one of us must face, both in the deaths of loved ones and in our own death.

Unlike the unbelieving world, Christians can speak of death with confidence, because we know what our Savior, Jesus Christ, has done about death. In His death on the cross, He defeated death, by covering death’s cause, sin, with His blood. And so also, our Lord Jesus is victorious over the grave by His resurrection from the dead. For all who are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection, and believe on His Name, death holds no ultimate power. When we die, those of us who are in Christ will be taken to heaven. And in the end, our Lord Jesus will raise us from the dead, even as He is risen, for He has power over death, and the authority to give life.

This is not to say that death is a good thing, a pretty thing, a thing to be welcomed. Death is always an enemy. It is always tragic. This is why even Christians mourn when a loved one dies. This is why even Christians face death with some amount of apprehension and fear. But death’s sting has been taken away by the death and resurrection of Jesus. “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57; ESV).

And yet, Paul also describes death as “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). That is to say, while Christ has defeated death, we still have to contend with it in this earthly life. That is why we are marked with ashes. We are dieing men and women. Yet the ashes are marked in the sign of the cross, for we have been redeemed by Christ, the crucified. Death is not the end of the story for us. When we die, our bodies return to dust, it is true. But our souls are ushered by the holy angels into heaven, to be with Jesus, to be with our Triune God, in bliss, awaiting the resurrection from the dead. And one day, in a marvelous act of re-creation, our Lord will gather the dust of our bodies and reunite them with our souls, in the resurrection of all flesh. On that day, He will give eternal life to all believers in Christ, body and soul. Christ is the end of death. We are redeemed for this reality by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

It is good to be reminded of our death. Our prayer is that the Lord would “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Death teaches us to repent of our sin and cast ourselves upon Christ alone for mercy. This is true wisdom. Yet even as we are reminded of this last and bitter enemy, death, we are reminded also of our Lord’s victory over death. And this is cause for great rejoicing, even in the midst of Lent.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. But remember also that your Lord Jesus will raise you from the dust, and bring you to eternal life.

Pastor Krenz

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