“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

by The Rev'd Dane E. Boston

A Sermon Preached at the Requiem for All Souls’ Day, November 2, 2014

By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; I Corinthians 15:50-58; John 5:24-27

“For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our culture is not much inclined to the contemplation of Death. Advances in science and technology—in medicine and nutrition—have given us a sense of distance from Death unimaginable to our ancestors. A stroll through the Trinity Churchyard and a glance at the many stones there marking the resting places of children lost to treatable diseases and strong young people lost to war or accidents reminds us that, barely more than a century ago, Death was a power ever-present—a danger of which to be ever mindful. Our forebears knew what it was to live under the brooding presence of Death in a way that, mercifully, we do not.

And yet for all of our progress, for all of our advancement, for all of our efforts to nullify Death’s power and limit Death’s scope, we remember tonight that while Death may seem distant to us, it has not disappeared from our horizon. If I amy be so blunt, Death is what brings us together tonight for this Requiem Mass in honor of All Souls—of All the Faithful Departed. We are, all of us, men and women touched by Death’s reach and stung by Death’s power. We know, all of us, what it is to lose someone we love and what it is to consider our own end. Tonight, in the midst of a culture that worships youth and chases after immortality, we are gathered here in solemn acknowledgment of the hard truth of Death that waits for us, all of us, behind the easy lies of our age.

I begin in this way, not in order to be morose or macabre, but to be honest. The fact of the matter is that, in spite of our many advancements and our great progress, the horror of Death confronts us still.

The pall that is cast over all the nations casts itself still over the front page of the newspaper, where daily we read stories of violence and hatred—of innocents suffering and rage run amok. This morning, I read how the death penalty is being sought for an accused cop-killer: Death begetting Death.

The reproach over all the nations and the disgrace over all peoples asserts its authority still in the unchecked march of the Ebola virus through West Africa and the rising scourge of opioid drug overdoses in American cities and towns.

The tears falling from the eyes of God’s people fall still by a thousand bedsides a thousand accidents, a thousand hopeless diagnoses and incurable cases and unexpected tragedies each day.

Beloved, Death’s grip is too strong for us to deny it. Death’s power is too great for us to pretend we cannot see it. Death’s claim is too broad for us to ignore it.

All of this we must face. All of this we must plainly and bravely acknowledge. For the truth is that it is only when we see Death aright that we can begin to see the power of this day’s announcement.

Today, as we commemorate All the Faithful Departed, we own the ways in which Death has wounded us. Today we acknowledge the ways in which Death has caused us grief. Today we confront the ways in which Death has touched our lives and the loves of those we love.

And yet on this day, we dare to name those we have loved and lost in the company of One other person who has died. Tonight, we pray that God, “the Maker and Redeemer of all believers…[will] Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of [his] Son.” Tonight, we add one more name to the endless rolls of the dead—and this last name changes everything.

For tonight we acknowledge that God himself has come to know the pain and powerlessness, the changes and chances, the Death and darkness of our human lives. Tonight we announce that God himself has gone before us into Death’s dreadful embrace. Tonight we declare that, by the suffering and death of Jesus our Lord, Death’s power over us is cracked; Death’s reign over us is ended; Death’s judgment over us is lifted, and Christ has made us free.

In the Incarnation of Jesus our Lord, God has accepted Death’s claim over all humankind. In the crucifixion of Jesus our Lord, God has confronted Death in all its indignity and horror. In the Resurrection of Jesus our Lord, God has vanquished Death forever. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. O grave, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”

Beloved, this realization does not transform us in an instant. We are still perishable creatures; mortal beings; breakable girls and boys. As St Paul reminds us elsewhere, we have not already attained to the Resurrection of the dead.

But tonight we find the strength to press on in hope.

For the Gospel’s promise is not that we shall be set free from suffering in this life. It is, instead, that there is no suffering, no sorrow, no pain, no darkness—no life however blighted, and no Death however horrible—that can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Good News we hear tonight is not that our lives will be free from the pain of loss—that we shall no longer be made to face the deaths of those we love, or see Death’s power at work in our world. Instead, the Good News we hear is that we can commend those we love and this whole creation in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord—that “even at the grave we [may] make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

The hope that is ours this day comes not from some denial of Death’s power or any forgetting of Death’s fearfulness. But our hope comes, instead, from the declaration that God has won for us victory over the grave by the risen life of Jesus our Lord—a life lived to God; a life without end.

Let us, then, fix our hearts on that Day when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and live. Let us look for that time when “…the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,

Let us lift our voices to say now, as “It will be said on that day: Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”