This week’s hymn for the Eurasia Blog’s “Season in Song” series is “Christ, the Life of All the Living” (Lutheran Service Book 420). This hymn was chosen by Rev. David Mahsman, Director, Special Assignments for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Eurasia Region. Rev. Mahsman heads the The Wittenberg Project. Rev. Mahsman said that this is one of a handful of Lenten hymns that stick with him in his mind. He remembers midweek Lenten services as a child leaving an impression, perhaps because they were at night and were different.
Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, serving in Leipzig, Germany, improvises a Chorale Partita on “Jesu, Meines Lebens Leben” on the organ at St. Trinitatisgemeinde, Leipzig. The text of the Lenten devotion based on this hymn is below.
Christ, the life of all the living,
Christ, the death of death our foe.
The hymn-writer here begins the hymn with a tension-filled paradox. Christ is Life. Christ is also Death. How can this paradox be true? How can Christ be both Life and Death? That Christ is Life sounds like Gospel. That Christ is Death seems to cut both ways. But the hymn-writer is proclaiming to us that Christ is Life and Christ is Death. How can He graciously be both for us?
Christ is our Death. By His death on the cross, Christ puts us to death, as well. In the waters of our Holy Baptisms we die. We enter into Christ’s death. In Colossians 2:12, Paul says that we have “been buried with Him in Baptism” (ESV). Our sins, and our Old Adams are drowned and put to death in our Baptisms. We are baptized into death. Christ is, in this sense, our Death. By putting us to death, Christ does something extraordinary: He puts our death to death. He won the right to do so on the cross, when by bleeding and dying He placed Satan, sin, and death under His feet and became the death of our Old Adams and “the death of death our foe.”
How can He bring us into Death? How does He become Death? This painting from Lucas Cranach says it all: As Christ bleeds and dies upon the cross, as His blood pours forth, He becomes Death. He becomes the death of death our foe. Cranach depicts this to the left as he shows a victorious Christ crushing death (represented by the skeleton) and Satan under His feet! What a magnificent depiction of what the cross means: Christ takes on our death, dies it for us, and in doing so, He becomes Death, He becomes the death of death!
At the same time that Christ is our Death, Christ is also our Life. In bringing us into His death and putting our death to death, He makes us alive. Death brings life! This idea is echoed in Colossians:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV).
So we have arrived again at Christ our Life, the life of all the living. We who live in Baptism are the living. Our loved ones who have died in the Lord, they too, are the living because Yahweh “is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32 ESV). This life we will see fully at the Last Day, when we and all those who have been buried with Christ will be raised. We, who were dead in our sins will rise in our bodies and look upon our Living Savior. And so, the paradox stands as a proclamation of hope: Christ is Death. Christ is Life. Gott sei Dank dafür! (Thanks be to God for that!)
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You became Death for us and by so doing You put our death to death. Grant that we may daily drown to self in the waters of Holy Baptism so that we may also be raised to newness of life in You, our Life; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
- Pray for and consider supporting the work of Rev. David Mahsman in Berlin and Wittenberg.
- Did you miss the first two “Season in Song” special devotions? You can still read them here and here.
- Watch for next week’s “Season in Song” devotion on “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted.” There will also be video of the hymn as played by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman (organ) and Christian Kalberlah (viola).