You may graduate seminary, but you never leave the classroom. There I was sitting at the bedside of frail, thin as a WWII POW, member of our congregation named Milda. The Scripture being read was Psalm 139 which, oddly enough, I found in the abortion section of the Pastoral Care Companion (a great resource btw). Not that it's an odd psalm to read for someone who has either considered or suffered an abortion - it's actually quite suited for that situation - but it was odd because Milda is dying. She was formed in the inmost parts of her mother's womb and even before that, the Lord knew who she was who she would be. And even now, as the Psalmist says, her frame is not hidden from the Lord of heaven and earth. The Lord of death and life. Only I didn't say the word death, at least not initially. I told Milda how the Lord protects us from birth all throughout our earthly life and even afterwards. Yes, I know that was terribly vague. And the best part was, Milda called me on it. "Oh, you mean death, don't you pastor?" She said it so matter of fact. "Yes, Milda, that is what I meant." It wasn't intentional, it just came out that way. In the future, I'll be more intentional about mentioning the d-word .
We like to dress death up: cutsie skulls and cross bones with pink bows; we say things like, "he's ceased to be; he's expired and gone to meet his maker, kicked the bucket, passed on, bereft of life, a stiff...and so on." Or worse yet, we hear things like this: "death is natural; it's all just part of life." No, it's not natural. Sadly, it is part of life now, but it wasn't always this way. This was not how the Lord created us to be. Not how He intended His creation to look:
O God, O Lord of heaven and earth,
Thy living finger never wrote that life should be an aimless mote,
A deathward drift from futile birth.
Thy Word meant life triumphant hurled in splendor through Thy broken world, since light awoke and life began, Thou hast desired Thy life for man. (LSB 834:1)
There is a "deep magic." The wages of sin is death. But there is a "deeper magic," namely, if an innocent victim who has committed no treachery, no sin, no treason against heaven, no rebellion against God - if such a victim, nay a sacrifice is made, the tomb is cracked and death itself starts working backwards. We have such a willing victim, a suffering servant. The Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the keys to death and Hades. He is the Lord of death and life. "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!" (Psalm 139:7-8). He's even the Lord over hell itself, for all things are put under His feet. Satan is crushed. The serpent is dead. And the tomb is empty. Christ is Risen - for Milda, for you, for me, for the world. The last enemy to be destroyed is death and He's conquered that too.
Thou camest to our hall of death, O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair that strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod the road the brings us back to God!
How beautiful the feet that ran to bring the great Good News to man! (LSB 834:3)
Thanks to the stroke a year ago, she may only have stories to tell about days gone by on the farm. But from the first "Our Father," she's right there with you, praying every word. She is already a saint for she knows that Jesus is her Savior - especially at the hour of death. "It's coming soon," she replied. It is for all of us, Milda. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. "But don't worry, Milda, you've already died - in baptism. Died and risen with Christ." She taught me not to be ashamed of the word death. Yes, we can be angry at sin at its chaotic effects in this life; we can curse its curse; we can even lament that death is a damned shame. For we should not shy away from calling it what it is: not the great beyond, not the afterlife, death. But now it is death, conquered by the Lamb of God. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning because of Easter morning. For Christ has burst His three day prison. And our faith is not in vain. Now is Christ Arisen, arisen, arisen. And now is Christ arisen. And because He is risen, so too will He raise Milda and you and me. Today, Milda was a professor, a true doctor of theology and her bedside was my seminary classroom. Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace + Amen.