Friday, November 2, 2018

1 Corinthians 15:55 Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?


Martin Luther had a robust sense of humor and did not hesitate to use it in the service of the Gospel he faithfully proclaimed. Once when the Archbishop of Mainz was going to display a collection of relics (ancient remains and belongings of saints) for veneration-- including some "fabulous" new acquisitions-- Luther responded with a pamphlet. Instead of emphasizing the soul-danger of expecting God's favor for bowing down before bits of bone and wood, he showed the utter foolishness of relic worship in his little booklet. With tongue in cheek, Luther urged offerings to pay for new wrappings for saints' remains suffering from Germanic winters in drafty churches. They were "chilled to the bone." The pamphlet also included an "updated" list of some of the new additions to the Archbishop's collection. Things like "3 flames from the Burning Bush", "90 inches of trumpet blast from the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai," "half of the archangel Gabriel's right wing," and "a large heavy piece of the shout which brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down." Luther's spoof "went viral." People laughed-- and stayed away from the relic display in droves.

One of the most striking scenes in the life of Luther is that storm in which he was caught while traveling back to college on foot in 1505. The brilliant lightning and the crashing thunder filled his heart with a terrifying fear of death. Contrast this with Luther's attitude toward death after the Holy Spirit had captured his heart with the Gospel message of Christ's victory over sin and death on our behalf. Not only did he fearlessly confess his faith in situations where he fully expected to be arrested and put to death; but, like the Apostle Paul in the Scripture above, Luther poked fun at death and the grave. Martin's mocking of the "Grim Reaper" was not a "whistling in the dark" sort of thing, but part of the living faith of a man who had no reason to fear death, since he knew he was right with God through faith in the doing and dying of His Son Jesus.

What Martin Luther confessed in humorous jibes at death, he also confessed in an ancient Latin Easter hymn he re-worked in German (Christ lag in Todesbanden):

It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended;
The victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death;
His sting is lost forever.
(The Lutheran Hymnal, 195:2)

In the line translated "His [death's] sting is lost forever," in the German Luther writes, "ein Spott der Tod ist worden," that is: "Death has become a joke [Spott]."

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!