They say, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I filed my taxes two weeks ago, and this week my grandfather, Lyle Martin, and Christa’s uncle, John Miller, both passed away. Death is never welcome, and it always seems to come too soon. Grandpa was ninety-one years old; he had lived a relatively long life, but his death still feels as though it came too soon. Uncle John was considerably younger than Grandpa, but cancer took his life at an age younger than we would have preferred. These confrontations with death remind me again that life is shorter than I imagine; the end is coming no matter how much I fight it. The psalmist wanted this reminder, for he said, “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps 39:4-5). Being reminded of the shortness of our lives, drives us to hope in God, rather than in this life (Ps 39:7). But we must ask then, “For what do we hope in God?” We don’t hope to escape death, nor do we hope that death will be as painless as possible. We can’t rest our confidence in growing old even. But we do hope in the resurrection. This is what Paul pointed to as he comforted the believers in Thessalonica who were losing their brothers and sisters in Christ to extreme persecution and suffering. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who [have died], so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thess 4:13-14). This is a good reminder to us that our hope in death actually goes beyond heaven itself. It is grounded in the reality of the resurrection; believers in Jesus won’t stay dead. For this reason, when death confronts me, as it has this past week, I remember my present mortality and my future immortality. At that point death loses for good as it’s swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54). Death feels like it’s winning this week, but a day is coming when death will lose both its victory and its sting. On weeks like this, I long for that day even more, as I hope in what John Donne expressed in his sonnet, “Death, Be Not Proud”:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
-Pastor Rory Martin