The Morality of Mortality
Tuesday of Pentecost 6
18 July 2017
Death remains a mystery. Humans harbor a macabre fascination with it. Jack Kevorkian merely took beyond all boundaries that fascination. The "plastinated" body parts of the "Body Worlds" show, which exhibits sliced, diced, and julienned cadavers to satisfy the prurient curiosity of those who have no concept of the en-souled dignity of the human body, display legally our immoral interest in death and the dead. Our interest in the mystery of mortality pushes us over the edge of morality.
 
We Christians ask death why he needs to exist at all. We live in the regime of life and that remains our fascination. We have life within us through the mystery of Christ among us (Jn 6:53-54). Christ plunged us into the water of life by baptism, taking us from death to life (Jn 3:1-8; Rm 6:1-11). We can ask him, "Death where is your sting?" (1Co 15:55). Death is real, a real plague, but it no longer bears the sting it once hid. Christ has taken its sting into His immortal person. Death, while a positive evil, has no hold on the destiny of us Christians hidden as we are in Christ.
 
Life is lived by faith under the sentence of death. Because we live in Christ through the power of our baptism, death itself ceases to be a mystery at all. Our mystery is how death could still exist in the world made new in Christ. Why do we still die, who have been brought from death into life? St. Augustine alerts us to the great translation of values that takes place in the newness of the world, when death becomes an imperative through our hope in life. The martyr, far from shirking death, accepts it in faith and hope.
 
We accept death not as a good, but as the darkened veil that forces us to walk by faith, not by sight. If we saw immortality, we would have nothing for which to hope. If all those who received baptism gained an immortality that bypassed temporal death, the masses would line up to be baptized as before a fountain of youth. Our Lord masks His triumph over death in the waters of life, as His triumph is always masked under the shadow of the cross. The life of Christ is not less certain or assured because it is unseen, but all the more so, because it is dependent on the work and promise of God in Christ. Immortality is ours through Christ who takes us beyond immorality. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"If death is the very punishment of sin, why do those whose guilt is cancelled by grace yet suffer death? The parting of soul and body remained, though its connection with sin was removed, for this reason, that if the immortality of the body followed immediately upon the sacrament of regeneration, faith itself would be thereby enervated. For faith is only faith when it waits in hope for what is not yet seen in substance (Heb 11:1). By the vigor and conflict of faith, at least in times past, the fear of death was overcome. This was especially conspicuous in the holy martyrs, who could have had no victory, no glory, for whom there could not even have been any conflict, if, after the washing of regeneration, saints could not suffer bodily death.Who would not, then, in company with the infants presented for baptism, run to the grace of Christ, that so he might not be dismissed from the body? And thus faith would not be tested with an unseen reward. It would not even be faith, seeking and receiving an immediate repayment of its works.
 
"But now, by the greater and more wonderful grace of the Savior, the punishment of sin is turned to the service of righteousness. For once it was proclaimed to man, 'If you sin you shall die' (Ez 18:20). Now it is said to the martyr, 'Die, that you do not sin.' Once it was said, 'If you transgress the commandments, you shall die.' Now it is said, 'If you avoid death, you transgress the commandment.' That which was formerly established as an object of terror, that men might not sin, is now to be undergone if we would not sin.
 
"Thus, by the unutterable mercy of God, even the very punishment of wickedness has become the armor of virtue, and the penalty of the sinner becomes the reward of the righteous. For then death was incurred by sinning, now righteousness is fulfilled by dying. In the case of the holy martyrs it is so; for to them the persecutor proposes the alternative, apostasy or death. For the righteous prefer by believing to suffer what the first transgressors suffered by not believing. For unless they had sinned, they would not have died; but the martyrs sin if they do not die. The one died because they sinned, the others do not sin because they die. By the guilt of the first, punishment was incurred. By the punishment of the second, guilt is prevented. Not that death, which was before an evil, has become something good, but only that God has granted to faith this grace, that death, which is the admitted opposite to life, should become the instrument by which life is reached." 

Augustine, The City of God, 13.4
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
 
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You suffered death while confessing life to the world. Grant that we might suffer death while confessing that same life You have granted us in the laver of life. Amen.
 
For Kay McGlone, that the Lord would grant her strength and full recovery
 
For all those suffering from addiction, that they might be freed from their slavery
 
For Robert Paul, that God the Holy Spirit would continue to lead him into the truth who is Christ the Lord
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017