Lying in bed, fourteen-year-old Lena slipped closer to death with each strained breath. Her vexed father, Martin, paced the room, wanting desperately to hold onto her, to watch her grow into the woman he always believed God intended her to be.
But eventually that doting father had to give in to reality. Death was about to claim his sweet daughter. Folding his trembling hands, the prayer he had been fighting fell reluctantly from his quivering lips: “Dear God, you know I love her so much . . . but if you’re going to take her from me, then . . . thy will be done.”
When his Lena appeared to be drawing her last feeble breath, the great Reformer Martin Luther—whose preaching had felled Emperors and Popes—fell to his knees beside his daughter’s bed. Weeping bitterly, he cried out, “God, please save her!”
Moments later, Lena was dead.
The anguish of death can drive a person mad with doubt and depression—especially the death of a seemingly innocent and undeserving child. But all of us who have held a loved one as their breathing slowed, their complexion waned, and their pulse ceased, can testify to the fierce indifference of that ugly monster, death.
Yet death isn’t limited to the death bed. When Adam sinned, the curse brought much more than simply the cessation of physical life. It brought shame, anxiety, frustration, disaster, and sin. Death seeks to expand its domain through physical and emotional suffering, broken relationships, and all forms of ugliness and evil. You don’t need to suffer the loss of a loved one to be pierced by the sting of death. Are you fearful about the future? Battling with sin? Struggling with a chronic disease? That’s the harsh reality of death.
But nearly two thousand years ago, in the midst of death’s darkness, the light of life began to shine. Having lived a perfect life, on Good Friday Jesus Christ suffered a brutal death for the sins of the world. But on Sunday morning the earth shook, the stone covering the tomb was rolled away, and the Son of God stepped forth victorious. This time the light of life didn’t merely shine in the darkness—He conquered it forever!
Now, although we Christians wholeheartedly believe “He is risen,” many of us have no idea what that means for us in this life. It’s one thing to confess that He conquered death. It’s quite another to live like it when the pain, suffering, and evil of this world crouch at our doors. So how do we live the truth of Easter Sunday when our lives feel more like Good Friday? To help answer this question, let me share what living Easter means to me.
First, living Easter means remembering that though we were dead, we’re now alive. Paul wrote, “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Before God’s life-giving Spirit made us alive, we were spiritually dead. But those of us who have been born again by grace through faith in Jesus Christ have been spiritually resurrected to eternal life (1 John 5:11–13). Our spiritual resurrection, wrought solely by the grace and mercy of God, erased our sin and made us living children of God. Without this new birth—made possible solely by Christ’s death and resurrection—we would never have believed the gospel of eternal life.
Second, living Easter means we can stop dying and start living. In connection with our new birth, the Spirit of the resurrection has come to dwell within us (Romans 8:11). Yet if this is true, why do so many Christians walk around with an attitude of death and defeat in the face of temptation and sin? We’re called not to simply celebrate Easter once a year, but to live Easter every day. Dwelling in sin is dwelling in death. Are you enslaved to shameful secret sins . . . or constantly falling to temptation? Remind yourself now that not only has God forgiven all your sins, but you have died to sin . . . and by the resurrection Spirit you can conquer it (Romans 6:6–7; 8:11-13). But you may say, “I know all that, but I just keep struggling with sin!” I say—“That’s great! Keep struggling!” You see, only when you give up the struggle do you surrender to the domain of death. As wretched and desperate as the battle with sin becomes, never surrender.
Finally, living Easter means that even after we die, we’ll live again. Though our modern culture has sought to institutionalize and sterilize death, we’re all eventually forced to face it. Maybe it’s through the loss of a spouse, a parent, or a child. Perhaps it’s a terminal illness or the aches and pains of aging. With each passing day, the reflection in the mirror reminds us that we’re drawing closer to death. Yet in the midst of this reality, hope shines! Christ’s resurrection and our union with Him guarantees that our bodies will one day be resurrected and glorified (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14; 1 Corinthians 15:35–57). Are you afraid of dying? Are you mourning the loss of a loved one? Remember that one day soon, all those who died in Christ will be made alive!
As his daughter’s body lay in the wooden coffin, Martin Luther looked intently into her pale face and spoke gently, “Oh, my darling Lena, you’ll live again and shine like a star. Yes—like the sun.”
Minutes later, when the lid of the coffin was being hammered shut, Luther cried out above the deafening racket: “Hammer away! On Resurrection Day she’ll rise again!”
[Originally posted April 7, 2012 at www.retrochristianity.com. This essay was adapted from Michael J. Svigel and Suzanne Keffer, “This Should Be Me,” Insights (March 2005): 1-2. Copyright © 2005 by Insight for Living. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.]