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.”[h]
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Sorry, Paul, but death does sting.
My father-in-law, Wayne, passed away a couple weeks ago. It was not quick. It was a slow, painful process, and there was little to do but care for him and wait as he wasted away. We were lucky in that he was able to stay at home and die in his own bed, with people who loved him at his side. But it definitely stung– for both him and his loved ones.
Years ago, my step-father, Jim, passed away very suddenly. He had time to say, “I’m sorry, darling” and then died from a massive heart attack. That death stung in its immediacy, coming out of nowhere.
Both of those deaths stung, in different ways.
Even to relegate the intense emotion and pain surrounding death to a word like “sting” seems a gross understatement, like swatting at a bee and putting up with its prick on your arm.
Death is a reality we all face: It’s the loss of those we love, the prospects of our own eventual death. It’s not just a sting–it’s a pallor that can drain the joy of life, if we let it. So why is Paul seemingly so cavalier about the whole idea of death? Has he not experienced the pain of life taken away?
Ah, but there’s the genius of this passage of scripture. Paul is not talking about what is taken away, but what is put on. It’s not the subtraction of life itself, it’s the addition of more life.
The perishable has been clothed in the imperishable. That means that, in death, we take upon us something new, beyond what we can conceive of in this earthly life. We are cloaked in imperishability–we take on a new, spiritual nature that makes us more than we once were. We are dressed not just in mortality, but now immortality.
Something happens to us that takes away the sting of death, or at least puts it in its place. We are given a new set up clothes to put on–a new version of life to adorn ourselves with, and, just as Easter eclipses the crucifixion, this new life eclipses the old.
Yes! That’s it! When we die, we are given new clothes. Easter clothes. We change into something beautiful. So beautiful that it outshines the pain the comes with the transition from this world into the beyond.
Wayne and Jim were two of the most faithful men I have ever known, and they were both pretty sharp dressers, too. I like to picture them clothed in immortality, reveling in their new imperishable lives.
Yes, the sting does hurt, for those of us left behind. There is loss and separation, and the adjustment to a new way of living in the here and now. But there is also the promise of someday joining our loved ones, dressed in splendor, basking in the light of God’s love more brilliantly than we can imagine today.
We had a good funeral for Jim, and we’ll have a memorial for Wayne in a few weeks. I plan to be there, and in honor of his new clothes, I plan to wear
my Sunday best.
Have a great week.
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