But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
I go to quite a few funerals. As a minster it's something I've grown used to. But recently, as I sat at the funeral of a dear church member, I realized that I couldn't quite make sense of what I was feeling. I knew it was something that I feel at all funerals, but what was it?
I knew it wasn't hopelessness, because I am convinced that the dead in Christ shall rise (I Thess. 4:16). I know that the Christian hope is to receive a resurrection body like Christ's and to live eternally with Him. So I knew it wasn't hopelessness. Slowly, I realized that what I was feeling was helplessness. I felt powerless in the face of death.
To me this feeling of powerlessness hangs heavy over funerals. I see it in the eyes of the family members. They would give anything to have their loved one back healthy and happy; but they are powerless before the irrevocable certainty of the death. I feel their pain and want dearly to offer comfort, but I feel helpless to give them what they really want. I can't take the pain away. I can't bring their loved one back. So I mourn with them. I pray for them. And I celebrate the contributions their loved one made to the life of our church.
I can only imagine that this captures something of what the disciples of Jesus must have felt during the time Jesus was in the tomb. Helpless, powerless, and at that time they probably even felt hopeless. And just as the events of Easter met those disciples right at their place of need; it meets us at ours as well. Easter reminds the believer that death is not the ultimate reality for those who are in Christ Jesus: life is! Though we stand helpless before death, God does not. He has conquered death in Christ, and one day very soon death will be no more. God is not powerless before death. Death has been conquered. It has been swallowed up in victory.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)