The Sting of Death Is the Struggle.
Sometimes the last hours before death are intensely difficult. When death follows sickness, the struggle for the faithful— just before the angels come— is often obvious to everyone in the room. When a loved one, due to intubation or shortness of breath or other problems, loses the ability to fully communicate, but looks at caregivers with eyes that plead for some kind of relief, the inability to offer that relief is almost unbearable. Sometimes, as a son or daughter, you are looking at a parent— one who has relieved your own pain, borne your grief, on countless occasions. You would give anything now to ease the struggle as life ebbs away for your loved one, but there is absolutely nothing you can do but pray as the power of life and death does not rest in your hands.
That’s when you are glad for passages of Holy Writ that are comforting beyond what any mortal can offer. You pray, in those moments, for the “peace that passes understanding”—the peace that can “guard your heart and mind” in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). You remember that neither life nor death (neither of the possibilities at the end of the struggle) can separate those in the room from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38). You remember that, whether this loved one lives or dies, you are still walking in the dark shadow cast by death and that you should fear no evil, for He is with you. There is great comfort in His rod and staff (Psalm 23:1-3). You remember that you may be approaching a very precious moment because that’s how the death of His saints is characterized. It is “precious” to God (Psalm 116:15). The Word is truly the staff on which you lean in these moments of struggle.
You also remember that there was One who struggled between life and death for six hours one dark day on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. Surely the desperate look was in His eyes as he bore excruciating pain and suffered unbearable mental anguish. Yet there was no one to come to His aid. His mother looked up into the suffering eyes of her son. The disciple whom he loved looked up and saw the struggle. The Father looked down and, because he knew that the cross was the only path to heaven for me, turned His face away, at least in some sense, from that situation that my sin demanded. He struggled more intensely than anyone in any hospital bed that I will ever know. He struggled so that my struggle between life and death could be just that—a relatively short, albeit, perhaps painful fight against death; a struggle that ends with eternal victory over death. He, the just One, did the struggle —the suffering—for me, the unjust One.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
And because of the empty tomb—the quickening of the Spirit of Christ—the sting of death for the faithful is extremely short and, in fact, is the doorway to victory.