Easter is the day when we like to say “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” And it’s a line quoted from the climax of one of the best theological meditations on the resurrection found anywhere in Scripture.
But here’s the thing: death still stings. Ask anyone who’s got the stinger in them: like my wife, for instance, who lost her father a couple months ago; or her mom, who just visited us here in Seoul, who lost the love of her life.
The French philosopher Jacques Derrida recalls the occasion of his younger brother tragically dying of tubercular meningitis at the age of two: “I remember the day I saw my father, in 1940, in the garden, lighting a cigarette one week after the death of my little brother: ‘But how can he still do that? Only a week ago he was sobbing!’ I never got over it.”
You don’t ever really get over it. My mom lost a teenage brother. I have only rarely heard about Uncle Kenny, but when I do, I can tell no one has ever really gotten over it.
This Easter, I remember that death is too big a deal to ever get over. I remember that Paul isn’t suggesting that the sting of death is gone, or that the grave has been stripped of its victory. Not yet, anyway.
Not till the mortal puts on its immortality:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
– 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Death has had a big fat bite taken out of it. And this is Eastertide’s tidings. And so we can declare these things proleptically, bringing their future facticity to bear on our present stings and sorrows.
But death hasn’t been swallowed whole. Yet.