by Rev. William Weedon
Media vita in morte sumus. “In the midst of life we are in death.” So supposedly whispered a medieval monk after watching in horror as a laborer fell suddenly to his death while working on a bridge across a chasm in the Alps. Dr. Martin Luther made the words the basis of his famous hymn “In the Very Midst of Life” (LSB 755).
Only a short while ago, on Ash Wednesday, many of us lined up in our churches to receive on our foreheads a reminder of this profound truth, that we are dead men walking, that from the moment our first parents discarded the Word of God and embraced the lies of the Evil One, the grave has been our common destination. From newborn to old man, we are all grave-bound. “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Media vita in morte sumus.
A scant two days after Ash Wednesday, images began pouring out of Japan that drove home that truth to us. They were images of horror and death on such a vast scale that we could only look upon them in shock and tears, praying for those who survived and yet lost loved ones, friends, family. So, too, we have been praying God’s mercy and wisdom upon the rescue workers and the government officials as they struggle to meet the staggering needs all around them in the face of such overwhelming devastation. For everywhere anyone looks along the northeast coast, the writing is plain to see: Media vita in morte sumus.
And for so many, it was just an ordinary afternoon in a well-ordered and prosperous country, yet within moments, it was transformed into death, litter, debris. Death came unexpectedly with the roll of the earth and the surge of the sea. And for so many, life was over. And for so many more, life as they once knew it was destroyed. It will never be the same for them. Media vita in morte sumus.
Yes, we can and must send our gifts to help in whatever way we can to assist with “daily bread” needs. LCMS World Relief and Human Care is already at work, coordinating with our sisters and brothers in the Japan Lutheran Church. Indeed, let us love not merely in word or talk but in deed and truth.
Yet surely such a catastrophe reminds us that the greatest gift we have to offer the people of Japan isn’t limited to daily bread. For while it is true–absolutely true–that “in the midst of life we are in death,” there is a truth that is deeper and the source of a joy that no horror of this fallen world can sweep away.
We know that in the midst of death there was once Life. There, hanging on a tree in the darkness, bearing the sins of the world to death, was the Son of God, He who is Eternal Life itself. Indeed, at His death, the earth also shook, and Satan and the demons had no clue about the tsunami about to assail their kingdom! For suddenly into death’s stinking gut came the rising tide–not of death and destruction but of light and life!
He who is Light of Light, the true God of true God, advanced on hell. Death cowered, Satan trembled and the walls of his kingdom were swept away. “I have the keys of death and Hades,” announces the Risen One. “I who am the Forgiveness of all your sin. I who am the Destruction of all your death. Rise, and do not fear.” The baptismal flood carries that promise to us, and He sends us out into all the world to announce the Gospel: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved!”
“In the midst of life we are in death.” True. But even amid all the destruction and death, we remain a people with a hope unquenchable to share with the broken-hearted, the hungry and the suffering. For “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Ps. 46:1–2).
We can invite others to be still and without fear in the midst of death when we remember who God is: the crucified and risen One, the Life that was once in the midst of death–for us, for the people of Japan, for all who suffer and weep, for every son of Adam and daughter of Eve. In the midst of death, we are in life, an unexpected gift from the blessed Trinity, to whom be the glory forever and ever!
About the Author: Rev. William Weedon is pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, Ill.