Young people like me rarely think about death. We feel invincible, like our hearts could go on pumping for a thousand years, when in reality all it takes to snuff us out is a microbe too small to see. We too easily forget how many steps there are between today and the six-foot tumble into the grave. We forget that we are mostly water, and water tends to dry out. There is nothing about us that justifies our pride.
Thankfully, God has put a daily reminder of mortality in my path so I don’t get too comfortable in this world. I pass by an old graveyard every day on the way to work and back. It’s full of rain-washed, crumbling stones. Some are bigger than the others, and most are too old to read.
There are maybe 35 or 40 buried in that place, people who were once like you and me. They had aspirations, loves, hates, afflictions, joys, and all the things that characterize the human experience. At one point in time they may have passed by other graveyards and were either reminded of the shortness of earthly life or went on their merry way without giving it a thought. Either way, they passed into the afterlife through the same dark gate of death.
For the follower of Christ, there is hope to be found even in the midst of decrepit tombstones.
Death is not a Christian’s enemy. I have no reason to fear. Death is just a hook behind the door where I’ll leave my dirty clothes. Death is a gift, a heavenly messenger sent to take me by the hand and escort me to another world where I will be greater, stronger, wiser, and grow in ways beyond mortal reckoning. If I live for a long time, then God give me grace to serve Him with that time. But if my time here is short, all the better to see the face of the Man, the King of life and death, and to dwell in His glory-filled presence for eons without measure.
How can sinful men and women step over that threshold into eternity and approach a holy and just God without fear of hell? Because the Prince of Heaven swallowed every drop of hell, and there is none left over. Because Christ took death in His mighty hands and shook its prisoners free. Because death could not hold Him down, and there is an empty tomb forever declaring the victory of our King over His enemies.
Easter is not a day to fondly remember Jesus rising from the grave like a scene from a favorite movie. It’s not a day to remember Him as a martyr for some ill-defined cause, like a historical figure you learned about in Sunday school. He’s not dead. We’re not holding a memorial service in colorful clothes in honor of some poor Nazarene who perished on a cross. We can’t hold a funeral for Jesus in our hearts, mumble a wish that He had really come back, say, “Rest in peace,” and then go about our business. We are His body. He is still breathing. His heart is still beating. His battle-scarred hands still bring life to His people.
Easter is the day the church has set aside to celebrate this hope. Arguments about pagans, names, and bunnies aside, who could say no to giving special attention to this great gift?
Reevaluate yourself. Have you been living like a person who is ruled by a deathless King? Or are you just like the rest of the world, carried along in a mad scramble motivated by the fear of death? Remember who you were before you were conquered by Christ, with all your insatiable appetites, only happy when you were serving your tyrannical self. Remember the day that person was put to death, buried with Christ, and raised to live a new life in a new kingdom. Remember the day that death no longer had any claim on you.
Pastor John Piper paints a picture of the Christian living in the light of the resurrection in his beautiful poem, The Calvinist:
See him nearing death.
Listen to his breath,
Through the ebbing pain:
Final whisper: “Gain!”
This Easter, celebrate more than egg hunts and family pictures in front of flowerbeds. Set aside some time to wander a graveyard. Read the names. Count their days. Watch the stones crumble, eaten by moss, rain, and time. Look death in those dark, scary eyes and say, “I don’t belong to you.”