Talking Back to Death: Martin Luther and John McClean

13 May 2024

1.9 MINS

One of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read was about what happened to Martin Luther’s daughter Magdalena. Barely fourteen years of age, she was stricken with the plague.

Brokenhearted, he knelt beside her bed and begged God to release her from the pain. When she had died and the carpenters were nailing down the lid of her coffin, Luther screamed out, “Hammer away! On Doomsday, she’ll rise again.”

Cruel Loss

A few years ago, Rev. Dr John McClean, the Vice Principal at Christ College Sydney, tragically lost his sister to cancer. She was a young mum with three young children and, inspired by Luther’s words, this is how he started the sermon at her funeral.

He said,

“Death, you must be pleased with your work, especially today. You’ve scored a great prize. You’ll be crowing, or cackling, or whatever your cry of triumph is.

It certainly looks like you won. You must be proud. You’ve torn Anne away from us and cut off so much promise. She had so much more to do. She and her husband Chris only had 16 years and had so many adventures still to come; she’d just started raising three great children;

Her writing and research and teaching was blossoming; she had music to enjoy and friendships to grow and a house to create.

And instead you — death — have given her two years of pain and now taken her away. You’ve turned the good and beautiful into a waste. We’re left wondering what it’s all for: if a life like Anne’s can just end. What’s left of her work and talents and love. As we watched the pictures before the service and heard Rosie and Chris talk about Anne, we remembered all we lost. It hurts, we’re gutted. You’ve won.

The Good Fight

It’s not that we haven’t fought. Anne resisted with all she had, and we cheered for her and urged her on. You almost had her when she was 18 — but she got away from you. You came back for another try in 2011. She hated it, she resisted, but now you’ve got her.

You’re so confident. You’re already eyeing the rest of us, planning, plotting. You shadow us, inevitable and invincible; spreading your dark shadow. This morning, Death, I have a message for you.

How things look is not how things are. YOU HAVE NOT WON! You have taken Anne: but her Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. You could not hold Him and you can’t keep her.”

It’s such a great confession of faith. For we have a hope which is stronger than death. We have a Saviour who has risen again from the grave. And because of this, we have a sure and certain hope (Cor. 15:58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).


Image courtesy of cottonbro studio.

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  1. Pauline Tondl 13 May 2024 at 10:46 am - Reply

    So solemn to ponder.
    But … at Christ’s Cross:
    Death has been defeated.
    The evil accuser of God’s people has been rebuked and vanquished.
    The destroyer of God’s people has been destroyed.

    It is finished !
    Our Saviour rose up from death, alive forever more!
    Life has conquered death !
    What a victory !
    What a transcendent hope !
    Praise to God our Saviour, and great joy for His people !

  2. Warwick Marsh 13 May 2024 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Wonderful devotion dear brother Mark!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Neil Harvey 13 May 2024 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    William Conyngham Plunket (1828-1897) was of the same opinion:

    O death, we defy you!
    a stronger than you
    has entered your palace;
    we fear you not now!
    O sing Hallelujah!
    O sing Hallelujah!
    O sing Hallelujah!
    be joyful and sing,
    death cannot disturb us –
    Christ Jesus is King!

  4. Teri Kempe 13 May 2024 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much, Ps Mark. A pastor friend of mine loves to say: What seems is not what is! What an immense privilege we have to claim Jesus as our Saviour. The grave could not hold Him. Hallelujah!

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