Today we can still hear the lingering Easter anthem of countless songs, posts, and sermons: “O, death, where is your sting?” This past weekend, Christians all over the world declared this verse as they celebrated Jesus’ decisive triumph over the grave.
We tend to proclaim this rhetorical question as a promise that has already been fulfilled. But the Bible does not say that the sting of death has been removed–not yet. When we claim otherwise, it can further burden those who are grieving. And it can disconnect those who are rejoicing from those who are weeping.
Read this verse in context and you will see that Paul wrote this question as a future reality, not a present one. “When [we are resurrected], then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54). While Christ’s resurrection and imminent return guarantee death’s destruction, we still wait for the day when “death will be no more” (Revelation 21:4).
Our current global circumstances clearly remind us of death’s present sting. It is still taking loved ones every day and inflicting wounds on those in its wake. And with social distancing, funerals are either being delayed or those allowed to gather are painfully limited. The already-lonely place of grief is being further amplified by required isolation.
Christian, we need not ponder where death’s sting has gone. It’s still here.
Recognizing this does not dampen the hope of the resurrection. It deepens it. Because it holds pain and promise in tension together. It permits honesty in the face of suffering yet assurance that God will resolve our sorrow one day. And it calls us to have compassion in the midst of calamity–to weep with those who weep, just as our Savior did.
Death has been defeated, but we still wait for it to be destroyed. Its sting is still devastating and deep. Yet the scars and empty tomb of our risen King declare that the sting won’t last forever.
So until he returns, we grieve death’s assault on us and others, but we do so with resurrection hope (1Thessalonians 4:13-18).