14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death.
51 Listen, I’m telling you a secret: All of us won’t die, but we will all be changed— 52 in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. 53 It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. 54 And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen:
Death has been swallowed up by a victory. [Isaiah 25:8]
55 Where is your victory, Death?
Where is your sting, Death? [Hosea 13:14]
(56 Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) 57 Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
From ancient Rome to today, the “ultimate” human threat is, “I will kill you.” Roman officials puzzled over how little that threat seemed to affect Jesus’ followers. Jesus, who died and rose again, set his followers free from even the fear of death. In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul boldly proclaimed a divine victory so sweeping that death would be “swallowed up.” In John Wesley’s sermon “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” he quoted Paul and said, “Let this especially fortify us against the fear of death: It is now disarmed, and can do us no hurt.” The Bible ended with Revelation’s glorious vision of a world in which “death will be no more.”
Lord Jesus, you went where most of us most dread going—the realm of death—and you emerged victorious! You offer me the choice to join you in that victory. I accept your offer of a life that lies beyond the power of death. Amen.
When I started seminary, the topic of death was one I really wanted to dive into and try to understand from a theological perspective. I wanted to know why the Jewish and Muslim faiths handle death very differently than Christians. I wanted to know how our death rituals became what they are today. I wanted to understand from scholars, what heaven is and what eternal life is really all about. I thought if I studied it enough, I would find peace with the idea of death.
I read everything I could on the topic of death and afterlife and asked my professors tough questions. But I have found the greatest lessons on death came from the moments when I was with someone who was taking their last breaths. It is in those precious moments where the theology, Scripture, scholars, and traditions I have studied culminate into my knowing that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s words are true: “We are spiritual beings having a human experience."
I find that when I am there in the last moments with someone, I can feel and sense the spirit of the person leaving their physical body. The Scriptures in our GPS today describe this change in form in different ways. It is such a hard concept to put into words, and humans throughout history have debated which words to use to best capture this concept. We each have to reconcile our levels of fear and faith around death. I have noticed over time, the more I accept that I am a spiritual being having a human experience, the more I find peace with death. I fear death less now and I am counting on a spiritual life beyond this human existence.
I was with eighth graders last week who are finishing their confirmation classes and could ask me any question--I was a “pastor on the hot-seat.” Their questions were deep, wondering, thoughtful, loving, and hopeful. Many of their questions were on the topic of death and afterlife. This is something universally feared and yet inevitable to every one of us. We fear our own death, and dread the death of those we love. We want to know what happens in death and we long for there to be more than we can see.
I shared with the teens that death will always be a mystery, and we will only fully know what occurs when we experience it. I count on the generations of humans who have shared near-death accounts and people’s final words to form an image of what death is like. The stories seem consistent over thousands of years, with elements like describing a bright light, someone reaching out a loving hand, transcendent peace, and a vibrational sound beyond our imagination. These sound similar to how Jesus showed up to the disciples after his physical death. And I think the reason each gospel tells it a little differently is because Jesus was still teaching, showing us multiple possibilities for our spiritual existence after our human experience.
Though mysteries remain, Scripture assures us that death is not the last word. Jesus taught us that by example. Death isn’t the final act--resurrection is. As people of faith, we believe in resurrection and life eternal. Our spiritual homework for our human experience is to live in connection to God, love unconditionally, seek justice for others, pray without ceasing, and emanate forgiveness, grace, and mercy. In doing that, we find peace and death is swallowed up in victory.
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