A Nap Before Dinner
Sin does not take a coffee break. Death does not care that we feel better when it is not around. We can adjust ourselves to new conditions and discoveries. We can make ourselves pliable. We can invent new myths that make us over into gods with acid reflux. We can unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system, but sin and death do not tremble to take us. We are all going to die. This terrifies and flattens us. Lonely, tired, and mutilated we are consumed by a great nothing.
Still, we argue with sin and death like we would argue with an old lover. We see and hear them, and they horrify and excite us. They shape us slowly and fastly, the whole of us, so that we forget and forfeit God, our Savior, forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation itself. Sin and death urge us to forget when something bad happens; to celebrate when something good happens; to do something, to make something happen. Sin and death compel us to want the whole world or nothing. Sin and death curve us inward on ourselves so that all we see and hear is our life captured by the slow movement of the hands of a clock.
This is why a Christian must keep learning to forget himself so long as he lives. As the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, we are bound to Christ Jesus, clung to by the right hand of God. For this reason we feel the terror and ache of sin and death. Sin and death pursue us always, but in Christ Jesus we also trust that we must be free of them no matter how immediate and ambitious the temptation.
When sin and death pursue us, smile at us and make us laugh at our own doings, how do we Christians react? We turn away. We say, with Dr. Luther:
“I shall not die, as you pretend. You lie! I will live, because I will not speak about my own works or those of any man. I know nothing about myself or my own holiness. I have before me only the works of the Lord. Of them I will speak; them I will glorify; on them I will rely. [The Word] it is who delivers from sin and death. If you can overthrow His works, you have overthrown me too” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 118:17).
Sin and death can comfort and help us never, not in relation to forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. Only God can lift our heart and comfort us in the midst of sin and death. When we are afflicted, disgraced, seriously ill, or bored, only God’s Word can apprehend our heart in such a way that we are turned from attention to ourselves toward the right hand of God, our mercy seat; Jesus Christ.
Only Christ Jesus and His gifts comfort and help when sin and death threaten and trouble us. All our Christian comfort and help against sin and death is embodied in God’s enfleshed Word and the tangible Gospel. This means that when we deal with God regarding comfort and help, forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation, they spill together in a flood of grace that overwhelms sin and death.
While we daily sin and fall to death it is not possible for us to totally die and not live again. Instead, we are comforted by a preacher, by a Christian brother or sister, who is sent by our Lord to deliver again the Good News that because our God and Savior cannot die, neither can we. Our comfort and help, when sin and death make a horror show of our life, is our reliance on another life. We cannot die because our life is hid in Christ Jesus through faith. Our God is the God of the living, and not the dead. Therefore, as Dr. Luther wrote: “Christians must live forever; otherwise [Jesus] would not be their God, nor could they depend on Him unless they live.”
For Christians, sin and death may bother us, even terrify us, but they have no power to overcome us and tear us away from our Savior Jesus. Therefore, sin is no more than a nit-picky mother-in-law, and death is no more than a nap before we are called to come to dinner.