where is your sting?
Where, O death, is your victory? + 1 Cor. 15:55
I didn’t know much when I got out of seminary. I’d preached a handful of sermons, been to the hospital a few times, assisted with one wedding. Of all the things I didn’t know, death was at the top.
I’d taken some baby steps during seminary watching Dick Lord, the senior pastor of the new church where I served as the youth minister. There were few deaths, if any, during my four-year tenure there, but before I came the young church had suffered a massive trauma - they lost a teenager, shot on a Sunday afternoon while he was riding his dirt bike near the church property. Another church boy survived, paralyzed from the neck down. That experience taught me the power of community: that young church built a mighty fortress around the heartsick families. Thirty years later, I’m still learning from Dick, whose ministry with those families continues.
Fortunately, my ﬁrst full-time call was to an “older church” where death was ever-present. Again, I had a willing teacher in the senior pastor, Bob Hill. Bob taught me the practical: how to preside, how to walk ahead of the casket and lead the body to the grave.
The old members of that church taught me too. You’d come into the church ofﬁce after a meeting, and you could smell it - the dry erase marker. The name of one who’d just died was freshly written on the marker board. In that church, death was altogether unremarkable, a natural part of life to be approached faithfully, openly, hopefully. Sometimes even welcomed like an old friend come calling.
Now, twenty-four years ordained, I continue to learn from a pastor who remains present to the grieving thirty years after a tragedy, from a mother who buried her sixteen-year-old and found the strength to live on, and from a church that embraced death as a gracious part of life.
It is the lesson of all of our lifetimes, really: learning to walk conﬁdently before the casket, in freezing rain and scorching sun, head up, as if to say, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"