But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries. ... Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 MSG).
Gerard Lalanne has a problem. And the ordinance he's passed is not going to solve it.
Mr. Lalanne is the mayor of the village of Sapourenx, in the southwest of France. The problem he's facing is a lack of space. Not in City Hall, or in the retail district of town — the lack of space he's trying to deal with is a bit more problematic than that.
The cemetery of Sapourenx is full.
And apparently — wait for it — people are just dying to get in.
Mr. Lalanne has tried to be reasonable. He really has. But an administrative court ruled against his proposal to acquire private land adjoining the cemetery in order to increase its, uh, capacity. And so Mr. Lalanne took the only recourse open to a politician. In an ordinance posted in the city council offices, he informed the 260 residents of the town that they are no longer allowed to die. The ordinance reads, in part, "[A]ll persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish."
"Offenders will be severely punished," it adds.
Something tells me that Mr. Lalanne's ordinance isn't likely to be enforced. It isn't supposed to be, of course; it's intended as a statement to those who the mayor feels have put him in an impossible situation. "Oh, I can't expand the cemetery? Well, then, I'll just pass a law against dying. That should solve the problem."
Would that it were that easy, huh?
Odds are that some of the people reading these words right now would love to believe that passing a law could stop death. I know, in fact, of several families touched by death recently. A mother and grandmother. A husband, father, and son-in-law. A beloved uncle and friend. Funerals seem to occur in bunches in my life, and lately I've just been to too many. I know the families touched most deeply by those losses would agree, and wish with all their hearts that there could be, well, a moratorium on death.
And then there are those who haven't been touched by death yet, but who are being stalked. A young man, younger than me, with cancer. An elderly lady, another mother and grandmother. All of us, eventually, feel death closing in on the people we love. And sooner or later, on us. Remember the story of the servant who came to his master, terrified because he had seen Death in the marketplace? "Death made a threatening gesture toward me," the servant whimpers, and so the master makes arrangements to send the servant on an errand to another town, Samarra, so that Death won't be able to get to him. Then the master goes to the marketplace and tracks down Death. "Why did you threaten my servant?" he asks.
Remember Death's response? "I didn't threaten him," Death answers. "I was just surprised to see him here in the marketplace, because I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
"Everybody dies in Adam." That's Paul's way of saying that we're not immortal. It's his recognition that the Fall was real and that God's warning was true: by going our own way, human beings would be the midwives that brought death into the world. We thought we'd be like God, but now we have a problem: Death walks in our marketplaces and takes who he wants, whenever he chooses. To the extent that we share in the same human nature as Adam, we share in his death. And, sadly, there's nothing we can do about it. Might as well pass a law against dying, for all the good it'll do.
Happily, what we can do about it isn't the end of the story.
In the same way that we look a few days down the road toward Easter, we anticipate the fulfillment of the hope to which Jesus' resurrection attests. "Everybody comes alive in Christ," is the way Paul put it. In the same way that we all share in death because of Adam's sin, we will all share in resurrection because of Jesus' life. He identified with us by sharing in death, even though he was not guilty of the sin that brought it about. And he did this so that we can share in the victory over death that his resurrection brought about. As surely as he was raised to life, so will everyone who has trusted in him. As surely as his tomb was empty, so will be the tombs of everyone who identifies with him.
In effect, Jesus did what we only wish we could do. He passed a decree against death; he prohibited death from exercising its power over human beings. "The trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable," Scripture promises. "Then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'" (1 Corinthians 15: 53-54 NIV). We still have to die, and we still have to mourn, but because of Jesus there is hope. We grieve for those we love while celebrating their new, eternal lives. We face our eventual death with peace, not fear, trusting in the promise that "Everybody comes alive in Christ."
So while there is no hope of a moratorium on death on this side of Jesus' return, there is a solid guarantee that on the day he comes back, death will be dealt with forever. That guarantee is as solid as a rock rolled from the entrance of an empty tomb. It's as sure as the hope of those disciples who first saw him alive again.
On that day the decree will come down from on high that no one who belongs to Jesus is ever allowed to die again. Space in cemeteries, you can be assured, will no longer be a problem.