“O Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?” #BCCSundaySchool2019

The Come Follow Me manual’s resources for the week of Easter include no set reading from the New Testament. Instead, there is a broad range of scriptures referenced–mostly from Matthew, but also from Luke, John, and 1 Peter–all dealing with Jesus’s resurrection, and how the story of the resurrection, and the story of the week preceding it, are emblematic of Jesus’s power to help us overcome trials and weaknesses and sins, and even death itself. This is, of course, a vital message; one that is captured in the exultation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

I notice, though, that the Wayment translation (which you should all consult) is plainer. The punchy lyricism of those two short sentences drop away, leaving us with something quieter, something more solemn, something more resolute, something that is not caught up in the moment of triumph but rather is spoken seriously, determinedly, after having traversed a great distance, perhaps: “Where is your victory, death? Where is your sting, death?”

Perhaps that’s a small, negligible change in wording. But I wonder. I wonder about the solemn Savior, rising impassively from the grave in Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection; a god who died and now lives again, moving resolutely into and beyond the world all around Him. I think about the people who waited on Jesus, who were devastated by His death, or so the scriptures tell us. Then the morning of the third day comes, and He is here.  Death falls away. This what generations, what hundreds of millions, however they articulated it or whether they understood it or not, were hoping for. And now the day has come.

I think about Lent, the 40 days that make Easter what it is–not, that is, merely our marking of the Savior’s resurrection, but rather our whole experience of hoping for and waiting on the Savior, of looking across the distance of our lives for that end when all is redeemed, and sin and death fall to the side. Lent itself was developed centuries ago as, more than anything else, a time of waiting for that moment of fulfillment. The notion of sacrificing something during Lent–of giving up, or going without–is tightly entwined with those 40 days, as way to help remind us of Jesus’s greatest sacrifice, and spiritually humble us in preparation for His promised redemption. But in the meantime, through those weeks, as through all the years of our lives, we are mostly waiting.

Waiting patiently, enduring doubt and fear and difficulty and injustice and sometimes great pain, always looking forward to God’s salvation, but not knowing when or how it will–suddenly, solemnly, without warning, as an always-already fact of God’s divine plan–arrive, is a key part of the Christian life. If we gain anything from reflecting on the scriptures during the long days leading to Easter, it is a reminder of putting our hope and trust in Christ, whenever–and, indeed, however–His grace may come.

The Book of Daniel isn’t mentioned in the gospel lesson for this week, but it should be, particularly chapter 3. That is where we find the legendary tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These exiles from Israel, so the story goes, had been made provincial authorities–yet, faithful to God, they refused to worship the idol which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon commanded his subjects to bow down to. Infuriated, Nebuchadnezzar said he would burn them alive in a furnace if they did not submit. They responded that they had confidence that the God of Israel could protect His faithful servants from even the hottest fire. And then they added, as the King James Version of the Bible puts it: “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:18).

The first three words of that passage of scripture–“but if not”–speak volumes. They have served, for many years, as a call to endurance, resolution, and faith. A call that characterizes our waiting on our Savior, our waiting for Easter.

As more than 350,000 British, French, and Belgian troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940, with the Germany army surrounding them, picking them off one at a time, waiting for them to starve or surrender, a British commander sent a coded message to London. It read simply: “But if not.” At a time when Biblical literacy was both much greater and much more thoughtful than it is today, the meaning was immediate and obvious. Yes, we hope to be rescued; we pray for it. But if rescue does not come at this time, in this way, our commitment to the cause, our refusal to surrender, remains firm.

They were saved, though. Not without cost. And not, of course, without a little delirious celebration. And yet, in the end, mostly, it was a simple thing, a humble thing, as well as both the most unexpected and enormous thing and yet, at the same time, the most obvious thing in the world.

If the scriptures are to be believed, the Savior had told His disciples again and again and again what was going to have to happen–that He, God Himself, would be executed, and then would live again. They found it hard to believe. Yet on that Easter morning, when Jesus arose from the tomb, He did not come forth, or so we can surmise from the stories told of the event, to shouts of surprise. Instead, death quietly fell away, the way home for all the human race was opened, and our deepest hopes, all that which we had been hoping for through all our lives, whether consciously or not, were fulfilled. As it should be. As was promised, after all.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Russell. What a beautiful message to wake up to and to share with my class today.

  2. Russel, this is both thoughtful and tender, universal and timely. Christ enlivens my hope. Thank you for your sweet witness and reflection.

  3. Thanks for this meditation on Easter today. I love how Hans Zimmer uses Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations in this scene. And he stretches that satisfying melody out as long as he can to let you meditate on all those emotions you’re feeling after such a tension-filled story line. Much like the humility and quietness of the resurrection that caps off Holy Week, I suppose.

  4. Tnbuttercup says:

    This was a beautiful uplifting reminder of hope and the fulfilment of the promise.

  5. What a wonderful lesson. I already taught my Easter lesson on Friday, because of my geographic location (we have church on Fridays), and I wish I had seen this sooner. The addition of the Wayment translation, (which I usually use, but this time I didn’t), would have been a great addition to the lesson.

  6. blondeandfullofgrit says:

    The Hebrew parallelism is meaningful when understood for its poetry, persuasion and repetition. I’m not quite to D. Todd Richardson’s level of wanting to own every Bible (I was in a sacrament meeting several years ago when he was talking about his new “ebonics” Bible), but I keep a pocket Gideon’s, which I read when I’m waiting for transportation. It gives me my “grit” interp., which wisdom I can share with those who are not as familiar with scripture appreciation. The Holy Ghost isn’t limited to one version of the Bible; He’s fluent in all scripture languages.

  7. Beautiful, Russell. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.