Where my wife and I previously lived, it was in a rural area, so we had to deal with a lot of critters, like possums, groundhogs, and mice. We also had to deal with insects, such as hornets, spiders, and wasps. On a couple of occasions, while mowing my yard, I encountered the small wasp known as a “black jacket.” They nest in the ground, so you can imagine a loud mower running over one of their nests. It happened twice. Unseen and unnoticed, I suddenly felt a sting. And then another. And another. At the first sting, I began to run, but these little devils kept stinging.
The Apostle Paul equates death with the sting of an insect, and it seems on this Resurrection Day morning that we are exposed to its repeated sting. This morning’s Washington Post reported the COVID-19 deaths have now reached 20,000 in the US. It reminds me of when I was a young adolescent hearing the Viet Nam war death counts nightly on the evening news.
There is an unseen menace in our world right now with a deadly sting. And many of us are fearful and anxious. “What if it stings me, or mom, dad, or grandpa or grandma? What if it comes for my spouse or children?”
Of all days, today is a great reminder of the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55) He declares, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54) And what is the basis for his confidence that the lethality of the stinger has been removed?
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (I Corinthians 15:20-26)
Today, with death increasingly seeming to be all around us, we need not grieve or fear as ones with no hope. For our hope as followers of Jesus is that he triumphed over death once for all so that we might triumph, too! We will all one day die, perhaps even from this deadly plague now ravishing the world, but we face the prospect of death not with fear, but rather confidence because death has been defeated. As Paul says, to die is to gain eternal life.
This hope has always distinguished Christians from non-believers. It is what has led so many of the saints to willingly trade this life for the next, as is found in the Hebrew writer’s list, as well as down through the centuries. Men and women of faith have continually placed their lives willingly at risk for the sake of proclaiming the good news of the Resurrection or being faithful servants to the King of kings. Their courage and resolve were and are grounded in the hope Jesus proclaimed that fateful morning more than 2000 years ago.
Like those black jackets hidden in my yard, but ready to sting, death is always lurking. It may seem far away for some, but it’s there. For others, it may be close and its presence clearly felt, like the shadow from the afternoon sun. Fear may make us run, but it chases after us. Death is looking to inflict its sting upon us.
However, unlike our approach to a swarm of stinging insects, we stand our ground and face Death with confidence. It’s threat to sting is empty. The stinger has been removed! It can look menacing, but its power has been taken from it. It cannot harm us, so we stand unafraid as it swarms around us. Because Christ has risen from the grave, so, too, will we.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
May this hope carry us through today and every day, and spur us on to live our lives with the courage and resolve of our brothers and sisters down through the ages.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version 2011