Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and this mortal body be clothed with immortality. When this perishable is dressed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory! O death where is your sting! Where your victory!" 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 Corinthians 15:51-55
TODAY God's people defy death!
Today the church accomplishes what humanity has feverishly tried to achieve by politics, technology, social engineering and every conceivable superstition since the fall of man into sin; namely to abolish death and to "fundamentally transform" this cruel world so that it should become paradise, but nothing has worked!
Death still bats a thousand. Correction: make that .999 because there is One Man whom it could not conquer, and whom the grave could not secure, and that is the one we name Lord; Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, but who could not be found in the tomb on the first Easter because He woke up from death very early in the morning and walked away, and it is for this reason that Christians refer to death as nothing more than sleep, for we too will wake up from it. We too will rise up like the lame man Jesus healed, and walk away when the Last Trumpet sounds, so take heart! Though we seem to be hopelessly entangled with the cords of death, Jesus will untangle them and set you free.
Yet when the church defies death it is not with contrived courage like a group of 10-year-old boys daring one another to jump from the high dive. Neither is it because we live in denial as people so love to do these days. Nor is it because we have worked ourselves up into an alternate reality like jihadists who are willing to shed innocent blood and throw away their own precious lives for nothing more than a lie. Nor are we under-prepared when we spit in the face of death like a person who brings a knife to a gunfight; NO! We are fully prepared, gathered this Easter to defy death by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and by His celebrated resurrection from the world of the dead.
We defy death by the cross! The "man from heaven" entered the dust of the earth. Our captain penetrated death's stronghold. He walked in its front door, spoiled it, pulled out its stinger, robbed it of its power to intimidate and proclaimed His victory over it then and there. This is what we mean as often as we confess"He descended into hell."
We defy death by the Lord's resurrection which we mark this day, by which He opened all the prison doors so that the grave can no longer hold you in. Indeed it now proves to be nothing more than the gate to heaven for all who believe and are baptized. The case is exactly as we sing in the hymn, "and the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven. Jesus, here I die with thee, there to live eternally." (TLH #409)
In the Liturgy of St. James used by Eastern Catholics today, death is personified and cries out, "My power has been destroyed, for I received a dead Man as one of their dead, but I could not hold Him. Then I also lost with Him all those who were under my power. From the beginning I held the dead, but now This One raises them." To this acclamation the worshipers respond. "Glory to your cross and resurrection, O Lord."
We further defy death by faith: by believing St. Paul when he writes that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God," but that we shall all be changed in the blink of an eye, when our Lord makes His glorious return to judge all things in our favor. To unveil all that is now shrouded in impenetrable mystery; and to set right all that sin has made so appallingly and dreadfully wrong!
We defy death by the power of baptism in which we put on the whole armor of God, for it is not simply a metaphor that St. Paul gives in Ephesians chapter six, but something that is accomplished in us by the church's primary sacrament." In it we put on Christ: His cross, burial, resurrection and immortal life. He is now our shield. He is now the suit of armor that renders harmless the devil's fiery darts.
We defy death by the power of the Eucharist. What was separated on the cross, the Lord's body from His blood, was joined together again at the resurrection and assumed into heaven at His ascension, for our Lord never did, nor ever will shed His humanity which is His connection to us and ours to Him, so we should be clear that it is not the corpse of a dead Jesus that we receive in holy communion, but the living flesh and blood of our resurrected, ascended, glorified, exalted and eternally-reigning Lord, and it is this holy communion by which we enter into fellowship with the Living God!
Therefore in the name of Jesus we will no longer "whistle past the graveyard." Instead we will continue to defy death and to spit in its face, not by any power or goodness or righteousness of our own -- God forbid -- but by Jesus our risen Lord, Who "in the blink of an eye," will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself." Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras