Saturday, April 7, 2012

John Donne, "Death Be Not Proud"

Posting the other day on John Donne’s “Good-Friday 1613, Riding Westward” got me thinking about my favorite of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, "Dead 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 picture[s] 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'rt 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.

Resurrection, for Donne, wasn’t just an element of the creed to be confessed mindlessly at daily and Sunday services.  It was the great hope of his life.  Shortly before his death Donne commissioned a portrait of himself clothed in burial cloths with eyes closed, and hung it on the wall in anticipation of his future glorious resurrection

And what a wonderful hope and expectation this is!  According to the Apostle Paul, those of us who are "in Christ" through faith and who were, in God's reckoning, crucified and raised with Christ (Romans 6:5-6; Colossians 3:1) have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) as a down payment of our ultimate inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Consequently, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will, when Jesus returns, give immortal life TO OUR MORTAL BODIES (Romans 8:11).  THIS is the Christian hope guaranteed by the events that occurred in Jerusalem on 5 April 33 CE—not some ethereal, boring, disembodied existence strumming harps in the clouds, but an EMBODIED existence in which we redeemed human beings can at last live—on a renewed earth!—as human beings were originally created to live.  May those of us who share this hope anticipate this destiny by living our lives as actually "dead" to sin and "alive to God," refusing to allow sin to "reign" in the mortal bodies we now have ( Romans 6:11-12).  Soli Deo Gloria.

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