"Death is swallowed up in victory."
St. Paul must have been a very brave man to write this and to believe this because we all think and know that it is death which swallows up everything up in victory. We all know that we must die one day. Whatever we do we shall die but we do not know the time or hour. We are certain death awaits us all and yet we are uncertain when it will come. Therefore death is the uncertain certainty.
There is also something about death, we know. We will die but very few people want to die. It is only the very bold who court martyrdom But most of us fear death. Indeed if we were told that the angel of death was standing in front of our doors, I believe that almost all of us would, if we were in the house, try to find an escape through a window, or if outside the house, we would not go near there.
We know we will die but each one of us at one time or the other has said 'not yet, please not yet.' And yet each day of our lives is a day's march nearer home it is a step towards the grave.
Ever since humans began to reason the idea of existence after death has asserted itself. From earliest times humans have asked the question where does one go when one dies?
We see in the book of Job, the central figure asking the question, "If a man dies shall he live again?" (Job 14:14).
Humankind of all ages have tried to answer the question using curious customs and usages. Among the tribes of Ghana there is a belief that a man lives after death. This is clearly demonstrated by tieing some money to the cloth of the dead person or in a handkerchief and placed in the coffin beside the person. This money, it is believed will assist the dead to buy water on its way to the land beyond or to pay the ferryman at a river which divides this would from that of the dead. It is also shown in the veneration given to the ancestors of one's family, clan or tribe. The Akan tribe for instance believes that the society is made up of the dead, the living and the yet unborn. The dead do not perish, they live on.
Job himself answers his question of 14:14 in Chapter 19.25. He proclaims "I know that my redeemer lives and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth---yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself and my own eyes shall behold and not another though my veins be consumed within me."
The writer of The Book of Wisdom gives yet another answer in Chapter 3: 1-9. The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.
"Death is swallowed up in victory."
St. Paul saying here that death has been conquered. For the Christian death is not the end. It is not journey's end. The resurrection of Jesus shatters and disallows any theory that man goes down into darkness and ceases to be. The crucifixion was not the end of Jesus. He rose from the dead and by the power of his resurrection he gives us spiritual strength in the face of all calamities including death. Whatever the calamity we know that the love of God is stronger and God never forsakes those who put their trust in him. God's love never forsakes those who are baptized into Christ and are therefore baptized into his death and raised up with him in his resurrection.
It is true we must die. We shall not take our earthly bodies with us. They remain here because they belong to the stuff of the material world. But the person, the individual -- whatever it is that makes you and me -- shall be raised and clothed with a body adequate for the condition of its new existence. Before Christ's resurrection death brought an end to life but after his resurrection a new hope was given. This made St. Paul write with confidence `Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?"
To every Christian who believes in "the life of the world to come" death is but a gate which leads into fuller and more beautiful life in which God shall wipe away all tears from all faces where there shall be no more pain, no sorrow, no crying and no more death, a life in which we shall see God as he is and be with him forever. To the Christian who believe, this, Death can not come too soon either to oneself or those we love. We need not fear for ourselves or our loved ones to enter a life which we believe to be infinitely better and happier. We may grieve because of the separation but our hope must be maintained that the dead do live. If our belief in the Communion of Saints bring us nearer to those who are gone from us. It encourage us to do the good things they did that we may after this life be where they are. The life on this earth is not all it can not end here. There must be a life beyond where the tangle of the present will be revealed and the inequalities of today put right.
Those who die in Christ are near to God. They are only sleeping. Death is only a night's kiss from God, it is not death to those who love God. It is an exodus. It is a going out to God. Jesus resurrection teaches us that God can overcome death and pain and tears and his love leads us home. We need to convince ourselves that God is love and it is when we take God seriously as love that we know that death can not be the end. The love of God which brought us into being follows us until the end into eternity. So St. Paul was bold to write "For whether we live, we live up to the Lord and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore or die we are the Lords." (Romans 14:8). Our seal of salvation when we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and signed with the cross, that seal is not obliterated even in death. Death does not end our relationship with Christ. The faithful rest in Him. The life beyond the grave becomes a manifestation of divine love and there is an entrance unto real life. So a higher and better life than this belongs to the souls of the faithful. We believe in Jesus Christ who died, who has risen and will come again. Jesus lives and the faithful will also live because death is swallowed up in victory.