“I believe in…the resurrection of the body.”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

Easter is here, and we turn from the desolation of Lent — God be praised for bringing us through the valley of the shadow of death! — and lift up our loud “Alleluia!” that sounds so much sweeter now for not having been spoken through all of Lent’s wanderings. Our great hope in this season is shown to us in vivid wonder: the tomb is empty, Christ is really alive again, and that means we ourselves will also one day rise again. Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 15, one of his longest treatises on the good news of Easter’s new creation:

But everyone will be raised to life in the right order. Christ was first to be raised. When Christ comes again, those who belong to him will be raised to life, and then the end will come. At that time Christ will destroy all rulers, authorities, and powers, and he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. Christ must rule until he puts all enemies under his control. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. (verses 23-26)

I discovered during Lent the so-called “Terrible Sonnets” of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I hadn’t intended to continue reflecting on poetry into the season of Easter, but I was reminded of a poem I first read in College Prep English class. In looking it up again, I discovered that it is part of a group of poems, called the “Holy Sonnets,” by John Donne, a 16th century British pastor. This is by far his most familiar sonnet, I think:

“Death Be Not Proud”

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

I am also reading, during this Eastertide, N. T. Wright’s inspiring book Surprised by Hope. Wright reflects on Donne’s poem:

Death is nothing at all? Death is not after all mighty and dreadful? But no, the last two lines say it all. Death is a great enemy, but it has been conquered and will at the last be conquered fully. “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, / And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.” In [many of our thin discussions of death], there is nothing to be conquered. for John Donne, death is important; it is an enemy, but for the Christian, it is a beaten enemy. In line with much classic Christian thought, Donne sees life after death in two stages: first, a short sleep, then an eternal waking. And death shall be no more. Donne grasped what we shall discover to be the central New Testament belief: that at the last, death will not be simply redefined but defeated. God’s intention is not to let death have its way with us. If the promised final future is simply that immortal souls leave behind their mortal bodies, then death still rules–since that is a description not of the defeat of death but simply of death itself, seen from one angle.

Paul celebrated it, Donne sonnetized it, Wright exposited it: Death is the Christian’s great enemy, but Christ has risen! Death is defeated! And at the last, death shall die fully! And that changes everything. This is the good news we live into during the next 45 or so days of the Christian season of “Eastertide.” We celebrate that the way we live in this world is completely new and different, because we know that all of this doesn’t end in death — even though death’s symptoms still linger in hurtful and terrible ways — because the Lord we serve and worship has already conquered death, and has promised to destroy it completely.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

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