The Last Enemy

The Last Enemy 1 Corinthians  15:55-58

Today is my big sister’s birthday. She would have been 55 years young, if not for the last enemy. I had lost loved ones before, but her death affected more than any other. It was the first time I think I fully realized that the world had changed and it wouldn’t be better. My world was better with her in it. I had lost what I would not get back. I remember the first time I witnessed the grand mal seizures following her surgery. She never remembered them afterwards, but I can still see the fear and confusion in her eyes when we told her why she woke up in a hospital or emergency room. The whole thing left me wounded and angry.

Bo was always a beautiful girl. That’s not just my bias. Others saw what we all saw. People were trying to be nice, but when they said how good she looked in the casket, it only made me angrier. Glioblastoma had robber her of the beauty I had always known. Watching her die of cancer was, up til then, the hardest thing I had ever endured. It tore at my heart and, frankly, at my faith.

If my faith did not mature it would not survive. That she was “in a better place,” or that “God called her home,” were proving insufficient. There had to be more. My faith simply could not subsist on euphemisms. She died, and I had to make sense of it. I needed a faith adequate for this challenge. One that could stand up to my tough questions, disillusionment, and pain.

1 Corinthians 15:55 (NAS): 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

I have always heard this verse at funerals, though apart from it’s context. In this way, it gives the impression that because the deceased is in heaven, or because they died in Christ, death had lost it’s victory and it’s sting. I tried to believed that, but denying the sting did not make it go away. The sting was still there. And I didn’t believe faith required faking. This was not a lack of faith, it was faith seeking understanding. So I looked closer.

The Missing Center

In 1 Corinthians 15, the biblical writer is defending the reality of the resurrection against those who were saying there was no such thing. His argument was that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. If Christ has not been raised, the very guts of the Christian faith have been ripped out. And as if looking the reader in the eye, he says to them directly, if that is so, “your faith is worthless.” It was as if he was looking at me too. In the face of Cheryl’s death my faith was proving worthless. And what he said next completely shook me. He said, if there is no resurrection, that those who have died in Christ, please hear the words, “have perished.” They’re just gone. That was how I felt. Even the belief that she was in heaven did not help with the grief, and I was nearly overcome. But just before giving in to despair, I realized what was missing.

In his argument, Paul is demonstrating the centrality of the resurrection for our faith. Not simply the resurrection of Jesus, but what the resurrection of Jesus means. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrated for us the power of God to raise us also from death. Jesus was just the first, Paul said, of those who have died and who will be raised. Cheryl was not raised to an ethereal, bodiless existence in heaven. As wonderful as it is that she is with the Lord, where she is, is only temporary and falls far short of the full glory of faith in Christ. She will be raised to new life in a new imperishable body, just as Jesus was. Like so many, the central hope of my faith was to get to heaven, and Paul is here arguing that it should be the resurrection. Please don’t miss understand me; I believe in heaven. But if we die and go to heaven forever, even though with God, we are forever dead. And death wins.

1 Corinthians 15:26 (NAS): 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

Having to watch cancer slowly rob my sister of her mind, was very hard. I was angry, but I did know who to be angry with. Something deep within me rebelled against the notion that death was somehow apart of life, and should be accepted. I didn’t accept that. As a child of a gracious God and Creator, I could not accept this was His plan for us. I don’t believe I was trying to make Him what I wanted Him to be. No, this just didn’t fit with who He revealed Himself to be in His word. And there, in His word, I came to know Him better. God did not take her; Death did. God did not plan for my mother to have to watch her child die. No mother should have to; that was Death’s doing. Death was the enemy here. It was Death that I was angry with.

God is presently subjecting all things to the authority of Christ through the preaching of the Gospel. And in the fullness of time, the last thing that will be subject to Him will be Death itself. And on that day, Resurrection Day, Death will be abolished. Christ will win. We, will win. When the resurrection happens, Cheryl will get up from the grave. She will be the beautiful sister I remember, but she will have put on immortality. She will no longer be dead. She will be alive. She will live again. And “then;” what an important word in the passage. Then will come about the saying…

1 Corinthians 15:55 (NAS): 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The time for the Resurrection is in God’s hands. That is His doing. For now, death still stings. And I don’t have to fake it. I know now my anger is not wrong. It’s in keeping with the groaning of all creation having been subject to the futility of Death. So now I can admit I am broken, but I can go on. I can acknowledge that I am cast down, but I am not destroyed. I’m afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair. I grieve, but not as the rest; not as if I have no hope. Christ has been raised and there is a Resurrection Day. And now I can receive these words…

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NAS): 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

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