by Father Mike Stubbs
For years during the 20th century, the United States struggled with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
As the leader of communist forces arrayed against the free world, the Soviet Union clearly stood out as the United States’ principal enemy. That enemy was effectively defeated with the collapse of communism. The Soviet Union dissolved. Russia and a variety of other states took its place.
But even though the Cold War has ended, we are still dealing with its aftermath. During the Cold War, the number of nuclear arms rose to an extremely high level, because of the arms race. The Soviet Union lost that race, but many of those nuclear arms remain, stockpiled in Russia and in other remnants of the Soviet empire, sometimes under loose security. If any of those armaments were to end up in the hands of a rogue state or terrorists, it could be a disaster for the United States. In a sense, we still have an enemy from the Cold War to defeat.
This scenario can provide us some insight into Sunday’s second reading, 1 Cor 15: 20-26, 28. It also is concerned about a struggle between good and evil. In this case, Christ the king fights against “every sovereignty and every authority and power.” It is war on a cosmic scale. But even after Christ has defeated them, he still will have one more enemy left to deal with.
Ordinarily, we consider the devil as God’s prime opponent, as the embodiment of evil. After all, the devil is the one who tempts us to sin, to lead us away from God. The devil even dared to tempt Jesus Christ, although unsuccessfully, while he was in the desert (Mk 1:12-15; Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13).
It may come as a surprise, then, to hear death described as the ultimate enemy. But that is exactly the case in Sunday’s second reading. St. Paul writes that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
We tend to think of death as the natural end to the life cycle. It is the way that God created us. Our bodies are not made to last forever.
But in St. Paul’s way of thinking, death comes as the punishment for sin. That is why he writes: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
That is why, even after Christ has defeated the cosmic forces of evil, he still has a cleanup operation left to perform. The results of sin must be eliminated. Death must be destroyed.
And Christ will accomplish that through the resurrection. We will receive new bodies, glorified bodies, made to last forever.