The Foe of Death

Anglicanism has been blessed through the centuries with numerous poets, wordsmiths, and mystics that have helped us to consider our human condition in light of the amazing power and wonder of the resurrection. One of these poets is John Donne, who left the church with an anthology of lyrics, some of which are known as the Holy Sonnets. One of these, that is of particular interest for us as we continue to journey through Lent and come ever nearer to our celebration of the Resurrection, is “Death Be Not Proud,” which he wrote in 1633:

Death Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 

And soonest our best men with thee do go, 

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 

One short sleep past, we wake eternally 

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 

If Christ did not conquer, utterly vanquish, and completely destroy the grave, then humanity would still be enslaved to the “mighty and dreadful” foe of death. Almost all of the struggles and temptations we face in life can be seen to be supported and furthered by a perpetual fear of the graved. We are selfish because we are afraid that if we are generous we will not have enough for us and our families to survive; we are proud because we think that we are the only ones that ultimately can protect ourselves from the dangers of the world around us; we are violent and vengeful because we think that the best defense is a good offense and if we put up an image of strength then it will keep others from attacking us.

All of these tendencies are perpetuated by fear: fear of the unknown and ultimately fear of the grave. Christ has conquered the grave, though, and through that we can find true and eternal freedom, which is ultimately a freedom from fear, for the biggest unknown, death, has been known by Christ and has been overthrown by His resurrection.

May we conclude our journey through Lent with the knowledge that Death has no hold over us for eternal death was killed when Jesus destroyed the gates of hell, and death no longer has a claim over us.

(as published in St. Luke’s weekly email newsletter, 4/10/19)