A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Death Is the Enemy: A Lectionary Reflection on 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

"Death is a friend," I heard the Christian psychologist say... and as he uttered those words, I cringed. What does he mean that death is a friend? Should I welcome death to my dinner table? Should I offer death food and shelter and hospitality? Was he serious? Death is indeed a reality, to be sure... but death as a friend? This psychologist with Christian convictions was no doubt sincere, but his Christian psychology was less than Christian.

Paul certainly did not believe that death was a friend. "For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.The last enemy to be destroyed is death." Death stinks! Death destroys our dreams and hopes for the future! Death comes at a moment's notice and makes life completely different. Death as friend? Nonsense!

I hate death, God hates death, and Jesus hates death... that's why Jesus walked out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning. Indeed, I understand that we can in our pain and grief welcome death. We cannot fathom the pain from the cancer that slowly eats away at our loved one's body. We no longer wish to witness the loss of our mother's or father's identity as Alzheimer's ravages their brain. Death becomes a sigh of relief for us, a sad but reluctantly welcomed arrival. That is indeed the tragedy of life this side of perfection-- the enemy of death itself is welcomed because we no longer wish to see the enemy do its dirty work on those whom we care about so deeply and dearly. So we welcome into our midst the very force that leads to our demise in the first place. It seems that death has us trapped.

But death does not have the last word, "...in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ" (15:20-22).

On Sunday morning we do not sing, "What a friend we have in death;" but "What a friend we have in Jesus." Death is the enemy. Jesus has come to defeat the enemy. Jesus is our Lord and Savior and a friend that is closer to us than any other sibling.

And any good Christian psychology knows this to be true.


Anonymous said...

Allan, this is challenging for me. I read it this morning and have thought about it all day.
I recall the chess-playing Death in Bergman's film, The Seventh Seal and the Princess of Death in Cocteau's film Orpheus. Not evil, either of them, and just as vulnerable and complicated as any human.
I remember hearing of Death as a young woman, so beautiful that she simply took your breath away at the sight of her.
In the Canticle of St. Francis, written when he was near death, he spoke of Sister Death.
I suppose I am a bit enamored of those Deaths.
Maybe there are two deaths to consider. The first,the simple physical death has no horror for Christians as we know Christ has defeated it. We believe in the life everlasting, and the resurrection. We know our eyes will open again.
The second death, that St. Francis also referenced, is the death of the soul, the spiritual death, that begins when we turn our back on God and culminates on Judgement Day. That is the fearful one.
Yet again, that one has also been defeated, and holds no terror for those who love God and neighbor.
When I was a kid I would hide under the sheets, afraid of skeletons....but the boogyman can't scare me anymore. Love conquers all.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your insightful comments.

Your comments illustrate well the contradictions we feel about death-- as an enemy to be defeated, but as a sadly welcomed guest in the midst of terrible suffering.

I cannot go with Aquinas on the idea of death as a sister. I think St. Paul would reject his view as well.

You are correct that death is larger than the cessation of biological functions... as Jesus said "do not fear the one who can destroy the body; fear the one who can destroy the soul."

Because of Jesus' resurrection we need no longer fear death; but this side of perfection death still stings.