The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. -John 1:14
[A loud voice from the throne said,] “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” -Revelation 21:4
The book of Revelation holds a series of visions recorded by John of Patmos, the same John who followed Jesus and became a “fisher of people” with his brother James. In each vision, there is a different image of God’s plan to defeat death and all its power forever. There is a sense of victory even in the struggle. John sees that sin and death are no match for forgiveness and life in God.
In the final vision, John sees that the whole creation is being remade by God into a new heaven and earth, filled with all who have trusted God and are now raised to eternal life. In that new creation, death itself has passed away, along with pain, crying, and mourning.
It’s a strange thought: even death will die. And, once dead, it will not be raised again. Death never gets the last word, not for us. It gets quite a few words, loud and insistent, but never the last word. The only Word that persists is the Word that became flesh to live and die and live again. That’s the Word that lasts, whose very name, Jesus Christ, means “the chosen one who saves.” With the Word in our lives, death’s words don’t stand a chance at holding us for long.
That’s one of the things I love about Halloween and All Saints Day coming one right after the other. Halloween is a reminder of death. We decorate with skeletons and graves and vampires and zombies, all emblems of death’s power. It’s spooky. It sends a shiver down our spines. But we also laugh at death on Halloween. We know that the skeletons aren’t real, that the vampires can’t suck the life out of us, that the tombstones are just a joke.
Death, no matter how much it blusters and threatens, no matter how much it tries to claim for its own, is a joke compared to the Word of grace and truth. Its power is nothing to the promise of God. Even so, we can feel a bit frightened of the skeletons and the graves, deep down. What if, when night comes, hope does seem lost and death looks stronger than life?
But then, right on the tail of Halloween, comes All Saints Day. A day when the church boldly looks death in the eye and laughs in its face. We name the saints: those who have died in their bodies alongside those who have been newly baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You and I and all the baptized, we are already dead. Our sinful self has been drowned in the water of baptism and a new creature was raised that day. A creature called by name: Michael. Judith. Denise. Joshua. Adelynn. Joseph. David. Sara. Each of us, dead to sin and alive in Jesus Christ forever. That’s the last Word.
When death seems strongest, remember that Word: you belong to Jesus Christ. The life that you live is not your own, but the Holy Spirit’s in you. Christians can laugh when death threatens and blusters, knowing that the last Word is always, always the Word of God: beloved, belonging, baptized. Death will die. Only life will remain.
God of grace and truth, some days death is all around. It seems so strong, too strong. Even so, I trust your Word that life is stronger. I trust your Word that death itself will pass away. Until that day, keep me in your Word. Amen.