Sunday, August 30, 2009

Death, Thy Sting

In 1st Corinthians, Paul quotes a passage from Hosea, as he explains the gospel. Where, O Death, is thy sting?, he asks. The prophet Hosea wasn't channeling a particularly hopeful message; it seems that God was frustrated with his disobedient children, and at that point in the book he's almost mocking them, via this morbid apostrophe. A slightly ironic beckoning of Death and his thorny powers.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?, asks the Almighty. The answer in Hosea Chapter 13 seems to be no.

Sheol, as David describes it in the Psalms, is a place of no memory; the wordless place we go when we die. David asks God if he might be spared from a seemingly precipitant death, and as he barters with God, he points out that we can't praise God when we're dead. If God wants any praise, he'd better leave us live.

No one remembers you after they're dead.

Paul turns Hosea's message on its head: the hopeless, ironic calling of the Reaper and his deathly sickle becomes a rather passionate, triumphant near-condemnation of death. The same tone and fervor of Mr. Donne, in the famous sonnet:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

So, according to Donne, even death dies; after only one short stay in the sleepy grip of death, we wake to a new life. Paul agrees. Or, Donne with Paul agrees, and what Paul says is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because Christ first tasted death for us, because we have died with him, somehow, while we are alive-- the magic of the gospel-- therefore, when we do die, we are laid into the ground dead, and moments later (?) raised into a self, a body, that cannot die. We are "sown a perishable body," (this vegetable love of mine, like a tuber in the ground), and "raised an imperishable body."

At any rate, death is no meanly masked ghoul. We all toward death do tend today, and no one knows what dreams may come. Death might be different than anyone supposed, and luckier.

And even if it isn't.

O Love, be thou my balm if soon will come a death whose sting is not remembering. Be thou bright, for now, and clear.

O Sheol, what has Christ done to you?

When you come to pull the black coat over my eyes, I hope you'll find the name of Love on my lips.


Ryan Hofer said...

I forget the Greek who asked: why are we afraid of the time after our life, and not the time before it?

Justin said...

What ever it is, we've already suffered it. In a linear, unidirectional world, that is. If'n thats what we got ourselves, here.

Ryan Hofer said...

Linear or not, why do we doubt our capacity, and the capacity of the universe?