About the Title
On February 25, 1631, John Donne preached his last sermon before the court of King Charles I. It came to be known, with the more creative spelling of that era, as “Death’s Duell.” From at least the time of the first printing in 1632, it has been dubbed “the Author’s owne funeral Sermon.” That’s actually an apt description: the sermon is an extended reflection on mortality, and Donne was in the grip of his final illness when he preached it. He died just over a month later.
So why choose an obscure phrase (with an archaic spelling) from a famous sermon (about death) for a blog title? Donne was one of the greatest preachers in English ever to mount the steps of a pulpit. While “Death’s Duell” does deal extensively with human mortality, its ultimate focus is on the way God confronts and assumes that mortality in the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, “Death’s Duell” is a sermon about death. But it is, at last, a sermon about the passion and death of Jesus, and the hope that comes to us through that death.
Donne concluded “Death’s Duell” with these words: “There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse, there bath in his teares, there suck at his woundes, and lie downe in peace in his grave, till hee vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that Kingdome, which hee hath purchas’d for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood. Amen.”
In that sentence I hear the everlasting call of the work of ministry and of the Christian life. In those words I find a fit aim for my priesthood as God gives me grace to carry it out. My prayer is that the sermons and other writings on this blog may help bring you to that same “blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse.” My hope is that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, your eyes may glimpse “that Kingdome, which hee hath purchas’d for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood.” My confidence is that, hanging upon the Christ who hangs upon on the Cross, the Church shall at last behold the fulfillment of Paul’s promise to the Romans (6.5): “if we have been united with him in death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”