“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon `Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.”
—Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”
The previous paragraph will be familiar to anyone who has read or heard recited the opening lines to the classic novel “A Christmas Carol.” In writing these lines Charles Dickens, the author of the novel, wants to make sure his reader will understand the truth of the matter. Marley was dead. The rest of the story depends fully on the reader understanding and believing this truth. Without the fact that Marley was dead, the story to be told would make no sense whatsoever.
Jesus was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The Roman Centurion in charge of the execution signed off on this fact, the Roman official in charge of the region, Pontius Pilate, inquired about the matter before releasing the body, Joseph of Arimathea offered his own tomb, the body was wrapped in a linen shroud, placed in the tomb and a large stone rolled in front. Jesus was dead.
This is the story the writers of the four gospels want their readers to understand as the truth of the matter. Everything else that they write in their gospels, both what comes before and what comes after, depends upon this understanding. Jesus was dead. Without the fact that Jesus was dead, the story would mean nothing whatsoever.
This is the fact upon which the gospels are built and upon which the two great festivals we celebrate during the month of November are dependent. This truth of the matter is followed by a claim which shakes the very foundation of our understanding of the world and of our God. Matthew, Luke and John reveal to us the astounding claim that on the third day Jesus was raised from the dead. This claim is followed by another which states that in this act of death and resurrection Jesus has defeated the powers of death and has given his promise of life to all believers. Somehow God was at work in this death, bringing life once more out of what previously had been the eternal human condition. God raised Jesus from the dead and in this action has given the very same promise to all who claim Jesus as Messiah. We hear this promise spoken boldly on All Saints’ Sunday as we celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us in the faith, but even more celebrate the promise of salvation and everlasting life that God has spoken over them. As death could not hold Jesus, the promise states, neither will death hold us forever. The saints of God join the host of heaven in the Church Triumphant, eternally fulfilled and alive in the presence of our living God.
Later in the month we focus on the Risen One, the one who took on death to defeat death, as the one chosen to bring the Reign of God to all creation. Christ the King, God incarnate, the one who entered the tomb only to emerge again very much alive, lives and reigns as Messiah, and serves as the first fruits of all who follow, who also will be part of that Heavenly Banquet. On Christ the King Sunday we renew our commitment to follow the one whom death could not hold and honor him as our Sovereign Lord.
“Jesus was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” But death could not hold him. By God’s great power over death Jesus was raised, the tomb was empty, and God’s great promise of life was made known to all. It is this promise in which we live every day of our lives and it is into this promise which we die. Even though we die, we will live again. Jesus our Lord, Christ our King, died and was raised again to give us this truth.