The Defeat of the Strongman of Death

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. As a result, we have an opportunity to pause and consider the great cost of salvation, that God incarnate, Jesus Christ, would humble himself to take on mortal flesh and endure the brutality of torture and death so that He could put an end to death itself. Whenever we consider the cross, we do so with knowledge of the resurrection as well, and through this, we understand what it is that God did for humanity.

It is through this process of death and resurrection that God reveals to us what it means to truly be free. James Alison puts it well when he writes, "The complete freedom and gratuity of God is learned only from the resurrection, not because it did not exist before, but because we could not know about or understand it while our understanding was shaped by the inevitability of death." (The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin through Easter Eyes). That is to say, because of the resurrection, we are released from the chains of sin that prevent us from experiencing true freedom.

True freedom comes only when we are not forced down a path by someone or something. We would never consider a person to be free if they were chained to another, stronger person and led down a path. However, it is not the chain that keeps them bound, for if you release the chain but place an armed guard near them, they remain able to be compelled to walk a certain path despite their desire to walk otherwise. The chain is not what binds; what binds is the strongman that can overpower the person and compel them to go one direction or another.

Death is that strongman. The power of death can cause a person to abandon their morals to save their life; it can cause them to strike out against the life of another for fear of their own life. The power of death is immense; it has guided the direction of nations and individuals alike, and the attempts of nations and individuals to avoid it has bound humanity for millennia. 

This is the wonder of the resurrection, for it renders the strongman of death as impotent. This is why St. Paul can write, in 1 Corinthians, "'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

The cross was an instrument of death that has been overshadowed by the victory of life in the resurrection. May we live according to that victory, for through the resurrection we can begin to understand what true freedom is. Freedom from the fear of death allows us to live according to the fruits of the Spirit and according to the example of Christ, for when we are freed from the fear of death there is nothing greater that can be used to force us away from the path of righteousness. 

(as published in St. Luke's weekly Newsletter, 9/13/18)