At the heart of everything is death. Perhaps. There are days that that foot-tapping, finger-snapping, joyful dance of life seems to catch me in the flow and send me spinning and I fall asleep full of gratitude. Even on those days, Death sings its counterpart. W.H. Auden’s poem captures this, how even if you are having a great day or an ordinary day or just working, somewhere around you death is happening. (And yes the poem does much more than that, beautifully.) I am not one of those people who just shrug and say “eh so what, we die, it doesn’t matter.” I quite dislike that attitude! If it is just a snuffing out, like a candle flame, that means it is the end of “me”. That is terrifying. Even if that also snuffs out pain and suffering, and I fully understand that a time comes when that is mercy, the snuffing out means something.
And if Death is a rebirth to something new — acorn to oak-tree — it will still be new. Those I love are not here. There is a loss. They are not here to touch.
So — “This Jesus God raised up” (v. 32) and earlier “But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for it to hold him.” Hands. Ascending. Freedom. Death personified. One of the theories of atonement — of the point of Jesus’ dying on the cross — is that it frees us from Death.
Yet we ourselves will still die. Those we love die. So what is this freedom from death? When God breathed life back into Jesus, reknit the broken body — that’s all off-stage. In my mind’s eye there had to be some fear in that moment, but that’s me not the scriptures. All we have is an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus strong and glowing in a healed body that yet still bore scars. Here we have the witnesses who saw Jesus ascend — like mysterious Elijah — to heaven. Peter offers this as more logical evidence to believe — Jesus is freed from Death. We will be too.
Death is still pretty final and mysterious and scary. It is still, here and now, a loss. Let’s rejoice in the promise and the hope — let’s have faith and trust. Let’s witness to the moments of joy in our aliveness. Let’s be mindful of mystery. But let’s not minimize how — here and now — final and sad death is.