When I should breathe no more
Louder then I’ll sing for
Death you are the wide door
To where I’ll live on forever
When I was a kid, my family had a big alder tree in the backyard. I loved that tree.
There was something mesmerizing to young me about the way it interacted with the wind. The whisper of the leaves stirring with every breeze gave the tree a personality. It felt like it was communicating with me. I spent a lot of time in that tree, just listening. We were friends.
But unfailingly, every year with the onset of fall, the leaves would turn colors. And then, lamentably drop. By winter, as far as I was concerned, my favorite tree was dead.
I have distinct young memories of fearing that was it. That it had died and was not coming back. Judging on looks alone, I don’t think I can be faulted for that. Bare and desolate, void of the green life that had populated it’s branches mere weeks prior, it was hard to understand how it would ever be the same again. My dad tried valiantly to explain the life cycle of a deciduous tree, but I had trouble comprehending it.
I wonder if that’s how the early disciples might have felt that first Holy Saturday. As Jesus lay lifeless behind a tombstone, they must have ached in the irreconcilable tension between what they knew to be true about Jesus and what they knew to be true about the grave he lay dead in.
…they must have ached in the irreconcilable tension
between what they knew to be true about Jesus
and what they knew to be true about the grave he lay dead in.
They had witnessed the miraculous. They had heard the heralding of a coming kingdom. They had joined him on the triumphal entry. And then, they watched him die.
That Saturday, they found themselves in the winter between belief and new reality.
Enduring the winter between belief and new reality is what this song is all about.
The very wrestle those early Jesus followers contended with that Saturday finds its parallels in the modern Church. While we have the fortunate privilege of perspective and know how that ancient weekend gloriously resolved, the enemy wants us to forget it. To live in the gap. To fear the implications of being wrong about it it rather than taking courage in light of it.
But fear isn’t from God. No, fear is a weapon formed in hell that Satan wields in an effort to convince us that the Gospel isn’t real.
From a deception in a garden, to a temptation in a desert, to a death on a cross, Satan has forever been madly fixated upon subverting God’s ways. But God’s way has always been about working every ounce of that evil for good.
What I was too naive as a child to understand about the leaves I was so heartbroken to see fall was that, when they fell, they hadn’t yet finished their assignment. As they decomposed, their nutrients would percolate into the ground to the benefit of future generations of plant life. Nature works its own death for good.
What the early disciples were too naive to understand was that God was using death on Friday to bring life on Sunday. To the benefit of future generations, God was working death for good.
…God was using death on Friday to bring life on Sunday.
To the benefit of future generations, God was working death for good.
When Jesus triumphantly roared back to life that first Easter, it was the greatest twist of fate the world has ever known. And that’s just the way God would have it. Death thought it had won, but God used death for life and death died instead!
I wrote this song in a winter season iced over with fear and doubt. Though it was beginning to look like spring outside, my heart hadn’t thawed with it. I was struggling to grapple with my own mortality and that of those I so dearly love. Knowing that Jesus is risen and that His very resurrected life resident in me rendered death dead was one thing. Feeling at peace with death was another.
Anxiety had claimed me. It had convinced me to abdicate my Gospel authority.
So I wrote ‘O Death.’ Like a lifeline to my future self, I penned the words I knew I would need to sing at my fears time and again.
Thankfully, I’m much more ecologically enlightened these days and know not to worry about the fate of the deciduous trees anymore. They’ll be just fine. But I know I will, now and then, find myself in the winter between what I know to be true about who Jesus is and what’s sometimes hard to understand about the still in-process new reality of my resurrected eternity. I’ve been and will continue to be grateful to be able to sing this song that reminds Satan of his failure and reminds my heart of the Gospel.
My prayer is that this song gives you the resolution you need to take back what the enemy tries to steal from you. He can’t walk back the defeat he’s already suffered at the hands of the resurrection, but that’s not going to stop him from trying to cause you to lose sight of the truth.
Remind him of his place. And remind your heart of what Jesus has done.
Here’s to fall, and to all of the unseen ways death brings life. Winter isn’t the end. It’s in the design. God isn’t finished. It’s all part of the process.