In the Very Midst of Death

I had the privilege of being at my own congregation, Emmaus in South Bend, this past Sunday, and the Holy Gospel (from the historic lectionary) was the “little apocalypse” from St. Luke. It opens with the sobering forewarning of our Lord, that “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” (St. Luke 21:25-26). These are familiar words, of course, but it also struck me how apropos and timely they are in this present day and age, all the more so at a time of year when anxiety is at a peak. Not only are the days of December darker and shorter, but the stress of the world’s “holidays” can be particularly hard and taxing on many people, as we are all aware, directly or indirectly.

But what struck me even more poignantly was our Lord’s immediate commentary and catechesis on these distressing occurrences in the world around us (and within): “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your Redemption is drawing near” (St. Luke 21:28). These, too, are familiar words, of course, but in hearing them on Sunday they hit me in a way that I hadn’t really caught before. Specifically, our Lord teaches and encourages us to see these distressing and troubling events as a cause for confidence and hope in Him, as a sign of His drawing near, His Advent, His “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (St. Luke 21:27), not for condemnation but as our Redemption from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

One of Dr. Luther’s many great hymns confesses that, “in the very midst of life, snares of death surround us” (LSB 755. st. 1), and that is most certainly true. Indeed, the whole creation groans under the curse of sin and death; heaven and earth are passing away, and everything in them and of them is perishing. But it is also the case, and even more certainly true – because the Word of the Lord endures forever – that “in the very midst of death, life has us surrounded.” The Sign of the Holy Cross is not our destruction, but our great Salvation, our Exodus from death into Life.

Within our homes and families, within our parishes, and in our neighborhoods and occupations, let our hearts not “be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (St. Luke 21:34), but rather buoyed up with hope in the Word and promise of our Lord. As Israel was caught between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, seemingly doomed and frantic with fear of what was coming upon them, so can we also become anxious and afraid of the looming threats that face us round about. Even the means of escape and deliverance may take the form of towering walls of water on our right and on our left, ready to come crashing down upon us at any time – and in fact intended to drown and destroy the old Adam within us, with all our sin and idolatry.

But the very One who is coming for the final judgment of the living and the dead has already come by the way of His Cross to accomplish His Exodus for the sake of our Salvation. Which is to say that the end of all things, such as we begin to experience even now in this mortal life, is itself the dawning of that great and glorious Day when our Redemption shall be openly manifest. Even now our Savior comes and draws near to us with His Words, which “will not pass away” (St. Luke 21:33), and with the blessed Fruits of His Cross and Passion. He is our Light, our Life, and our Salvation, precisely in the midst of the darkness and death that daily press upon us.

In the very face of death, therefore, lift up your head and behold the light of the revelation of the glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!