by Tim Pauls
Fists curled in futility, the little boy stares at the shoes of the bully on the windswept playground. His tormentor has been goading him all week, telling him the beat-down is coming. The kid’s been avoiding him, but his luck has run out. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance, but that doesn’t stop him uttering one last, defiant word to the bully: “I know that you’re bigger than I am … but have you met my big brother? ‘Cause he’s bigger than you are, and he’s coming for you!”
I often envision death as a bully. It’s always harassing you at the edge of your consciousness. It’s why you stop at red lights, check expiration dates, wear sunscreen, change smoke alarm batteries and lock your doors at night. Life is fragile, and staying alive takes work. Death is always just one accident, one illness, one random act of violence away. Death goads until it corners you; and before it comes for you, it knocks the wind out of you by stealing your loved ones and friends.
And in the end, no matter how hard you work to avoid it, death towers over you and remorselessly says, “I win. I always do.”
And what are you to say? After all, death is bigger than you are. On your own, you don’t stand a chance.
All the same, you know exactly what to say to that bully death:
“Death, I know that you’re bigger than I am, and I can’t beat you. But I don’t have to, for have you met my big Brother? Why, I believe you have! In fact, you once met Him on a cross — you even saw Him buried in a tomb. But you couldn’t hold Him, could you? He beat you, and He beat you so badly that you’ll never recover.
“Not only that, but He beat you for me! So go ahead. You can knock me around a little, Death. Do your worst. But you won’t win. Not now. Not ever again. Christ has died and Christ is risen, and He will raise His people too.”
It may sound strange to mock death, but in doing so we join St. Paul. “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55–57).
Death doesn’t win. It is the last enemy to be destroyed. Until then, let us not cease to remind one another that Christ is risen indeed. He has won the victory, and He gives it to His people.
The Rev. Tim Pauls is the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho, and a collegium fellow for DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.