Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”*
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”^
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
—the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58
One of my ongoing challenges with living west of the Mississippi is the wide open spaces. For the first eighteen years of my life, if I saw a hill while riding in a car, within a short while we were up and over the hill. For a mountain, it might take an hour to get there…or not, since when we lived in Pittsburgh we were pretty much already on mountains. Florida was flat the way Central Texas is flat, but one would reach either the sea (east to west) or orange groves (north to south) in not too much time.
Here we can see for a day’s drive, given just a little elevation. And it only gets worse the further west we go. On a train trip from Denver, Colorado to Berkeley, California we first spent a day where the mountains on the horizon didn’t budge. Neither larger nor smaller; never seeming any closer despite the blur of landscape out the side windows. Flat, flat, flat. Until we finally reached those mountains. Pop! Glorious, snow-drifted mountains full of tall trees.
I live for tall trees.
I hate driving.
For a sunny-tempered soul, I hover on the edge of existential pointlessness a lot. It may be the strange, profound realism of my kind of brain, but it can be challenging to shift myself into making an effort to <insert item here>, because I can easily see how not doing <insert item here> would likewise sink without a ripple into the quicksand of a century. Or even a decade. Which never-scheduled doctor’s appointment from April 2007 do you remember? Indeed.
Still, I’m not an Epicurean. The approach makes all kinds of sense to my brain, but my gut shakes its head and says, nuh-uh. All of me affirms that there is more to life than sensation and the chattering of my brain, and heart and experience both bring me to confess Christ dead, Christ risen, Christ come again. I may be standing on the plains of Kansas, but I can see the Rockies from here.
I’m writing this on Good Friday, God’s Friday, as my friend Leon pointed out. Yesterday my congregation began our annual traverse from Palm Sunday’s hilltop celebration down into the valley by removing all the Christ-symbols from our worship space. Soon I will head out with my brother-in-law T to walk on the “wild side” by joining a city-wide Good Friday worship service. (We’re both introverts AND both east-coast Presbyterian; this completely qualifies as wild.) Today is the day we remember the trial of Jesus of Nazareth and his execution, when we honor his choice to die on our behalf.
We say, “On the third day, he rose again from the dead.” So for a little while, we wait in darkness.
But while we, today, know how this part of the story comes out—that we’ll be singing and dancing again on Easter—at the time, no one was quite sure whether the darkness would continue, and for how long. And while we, today, know of Christ risen, we are in the same place as the apostle Paul was, millennia ago, as we wait for Christ come again.
We can just barely see the mountains from here. And boy, do we hate the long drive. “But listen, I tell you a mystery!” One day, pop!
In the meantime, again I give myself fully to the work of the Lord, because I know that my labor in the Lord is not in vain. Drive on.
*On this mountain he will destroy / the shroud that enfolds all peoples, / the sheet that covers all nations; / he will swallow up death forever. —Isaiah 25:7-8
^“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; / I will redeem them from death. / Where, O death, are your plagues? / Where, O grave, is your destruction?” —so says the LORD, in Hosea 13:14