O death where is thy sting?
1 Corinthians 15:1-58
When Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out 30 years ago it caused a tremendous stir.
Now there are definitely reasons to object to the film. But we should not object simply because the film makes fun of religious people. Jesus made fun of religious people. Constantly. (e.g. The Mote and the Beam or Straining at a gnat).
No the problem with the Life of Brian is not that it is a comedy. Its biggest problem is that it’s not a comedy. It is, finally, a complete tragedy. Its hero – Brian – is crucified and there is no rescue, no resurrection. Just a catchy song whistled from the cross…
Always look on the bright side of death,
just before you draw your terminal breath…
Life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word…
You’ll see it’s all a show,
keep ‘em laughing as you go,
just remember that the last laugh is on you…
There’s the old saying: “Whoever laughs last, laughs loudest.” Well here’s the gospel according to Monty Python – death has the last laugh. And if that’s true, all comedy is black comedy. All humour is gallows humour. It’s about whistling through the graveyard to keep up your spirits. But life itself is not a comedy. Life is a tragedy and, if we can, we grab a few moments of joy while we await the inevitable.
Yet Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 has good news for us. Brian may have perished, but Christ rose again from the dead. And in the twinkling of an eye He will return to apply that resurrection power to the whole universe.
Which means that death does not have the last laugh. No, the Christian – even as they await their own certain death – can laugh at the grave.
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
This is incredible cheek. Death has conquered every human who has ever lived. The grave swallows us all. We don’t have a hope in the world, and yet, here is the most audacious taunt. It’s like David against Goliath, gloating about a victory that seems impossible. How can Paul speak like this?
Well he continues:
“The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)
The victory doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Jesus. He has submitted to death, pushed on through the grave and out the other side into immortal life. He has drawn the sting of death and risen again as the Firstfruits of a bumper crop of resurrection. When we are united to Jesus we share in both His death and His risen life.
Yes we will enter death. But the sting is drawn by Christ. For us it will not be the curse of godforsakenness. For us it will be ‘falling asleep in Jesus.’ And death will not have the last word. It does not have the victory – Christ does.
We must ask ourselves – what story do we inhabit? Is this a tragedy where death laughs at us? Or do we live in a cosmic comedy where we laugh at death?
Incredibly it’s the latter. We don’t cower before death. We don’t make a few nervous jokes in the face of the inevitable. We can look death square in the eye and laugh at it. Life is a glorious and eternal comedy. And all’s well that ends well.
“Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
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