Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Where's Thy Victory, Boasting Grave?

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

This is the third verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," and the second and fourth lines are some of my favorites in the entire hymn. They're inspired by 1 Corinthians 15:55, which in turn references Hosea 13:14. Here's the Hosea verse:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
O Death, I will be your plagues!
O Grave, I will be your destruction!
Pity is hidden from My eyes.

This was God's promise to the people long before Jesus was born, and in Jesus' death and resurrection God fulfills that promise. Christ has died, and Christ is risen. Death can no longer hold us. We are ransomed; we are redeemed. All that power that death and the grave had over us is turned on them by God.

In the third line of the hymn, I interpret the word 'once' a couple of different ways. In one sense, it's like a story is being told. Once upon a time, Jesus died to save us. This is the story we will always tell. It is, in fact, the most important story we can tell. On the other hand, though, 'once' means that something happened only one time, and sure enough, Christ died for us once so that we might live if we have faith. We'll all die physically, but we don't have to experience spiritual death. We have abundant, eternal life that begins now. Death has no power over us, and the grave can't hold us. Our Lord lives again, and in Christ's name, so do we. One death was enough for us all.

That's something that strikes me when reading from John, actually. Caiaphas, the high priest, is said to convince the other Jewish leaders that it is better that one man die for the people. He prophecies. Caiaphas interprets his own words one way, but we see them an entirely different way. Jesus -- one man -- did die for all the people, and then He rose for all the people. It was better that Jesus die; that was God's plan to secure salvation for all of us. It only took Christ's death and resurrection to save us. At the same time, though, saying 'only' trivializes that death. Jesus was God as man, and Jesus took on the sins of all of us when He died. That's huge, definitely not something to be trivialized.

All power and victory forever belong to God, not death. We find eternity in God because Christ has conquered death. 


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