23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
That word is the good news that was announced to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25, NRSV)
In my work as a hospital chaplain, I often encounter situations that are stark reminders of the fragility of human bodies. Long illnesses, sudden injuries, and everything in-between, all can take their toll on the delicate systems that uphold our physical well-being. Even when an individual is approaching death, family members and loved ones can understandably struggle mightily with accepting the reality of their beloved one’s condition. “He was fine just a few days ago!” “She was recovering so well until now!” “How could this happen to someone so young/healthy/active/full of life?” “I know he’s lived a long full life, but I’m just not ready to let him go.”
Holding fast to the promise of the resurrection takes on new challenges in the face of the concreteness of death. The assurance that God has conquered death through Christ’s rising from the dead may bring us deep comfort, but it can also be very difficult to soothe the raw grief that we understandably feel when a living, breathing, beloved person is no longer among us.
In moments of profound grief, we can identify with Jesus’ first loved ones, those with whom he shared his earthly life. Can you imagine their shock and disbelief, when their beloved young teacher, leader, and friend, the one in whom they had placed their hopes for the coming of God’s kingdom, was betrayed by his own disciple, beaten, and brutally executed by the state? They must have felt that all of their hopes in Jesus had been violated, dashed to the ground along with his broken, lifeless body. “This isn’t the way it was supposed to go when our Messiah finally came!” “How can we go on?”
Death confronts us with the fleeting nature of flesh, as Peter wrote when he quoted the prophet Isaiah in today’s passage. God’s ultimate, final power over death is fully revealed, however, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. By sharing in our human vulnerability, Jesus forever joined together the power of God’s everlasting life with the tender, temporary years of our human lives. Embodied human life is indeed glorious, exceeding even the beauty of the flowers of the fields, and it is human to grieve the passing of meaningful lives of any duration. At the same time, God invites us to cling to the enduring strength of God’s word: not just words on paper in Scripture but also the living, lively, alive Word of the resurrected Christ. He does not wither or fall, and he has united our fleeting, perishable lives to his imperishable life so that we may live boldly into our identity in him, now and always.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. In that living Word, the Word made flesh, our hope is sure.