Mrs. Seibel represented the ideal image of a nurse to me. Twenty years my senior, not yet 40 at the time of my student nurse days, she was already a widow with a young daughter. Yet, what she had personally endured in life hadn’t seemed to ruffle her in the least. She personified grace and serenity. Her very presence at the bedside of a patient had to radiate healing, just as it gave me a sense of comfort, too. It didn’t hurt a bit that she resembled my beautiful aunt Valborg, enough to be her sister.
Our paths crossed years later at another care facility. She remained just as I had seen her before. Quietly listening to morning report, she never seemed harried or overwhelmed with the responsibilities facing her. She carried an aura of peace about her, no matter the workload. Whether she realized it or not, she was my role model, somebody I longed to be like.
One day, however, she surprised me. Something had hit a nerve. Whatever it was, her reaction came. “If anyone deserves to be taken up into Heaven like Elijah, it is nurses. We’ve already been through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ enough times!” We laughed, of course, but I have never forgotten her words and the ideas it generated.
For a fact, all of us in the ‘church of the firstborn’ HAVE already gone through that valley. I’m reminded of a story of a man being tortured by a Nazi officer. The officer told the man, “Don’t you know I have the power to kill you?” The Christian answered, “You can’t kill me, I’ve already died.”
If we have been buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6), we must have died. We only bury the dead. If we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, then the wages of sin, which is death, have been paid already. The soul that sins dies (Ezekiel 18:4). That certainly applies to all creation under the curse of sin and death. Our choice is whether we die sooner (now, with Christ) or later. The former gives us distinct advantages as we travel our wilderness journey.
This poignant passage from Hebrews 2:14-15 gets to the heart of our dilemma as human beings: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through [b]fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage[/b].” (emphasis added) The divine remedy for this disease of bondage to fear is the glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people…a Savior which is Christ the Lord! (Luke 2)
I suspect that without Calvary, the grave would have been the end. We would receive our promised wages and humanity would be both without excuse and without hope. Here is where the good news begins: God doesn’t leave us dead and gone. In Christ Jesus, we are created anew. What is mortal (dead) puts on immortality (risen with Christ, transformed, a new creation). We pass from death to life through the Door, who is the Resurrection and the Life. We escape that bondage to the fear of death. Not only have we already died, we have already risen!
And that I have on good authority: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus….” Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV
Thanks be to God! Mrs. Seibel was right. We’re more like Elijah than we realize. We have already died and, born a new creation, gone to Heaven, even while we yet labor in the vineyard!
'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. . .For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." . . .But thanks [be] to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.' (see 1 Corinthians 15 NKJV)