March 2, 2013

If Only You Had Been Here

Saturday was Simeon’s 4th birthday. As he was opening presents I found many of the gifts he received to be somewhat familiar. He received Leonardo, the leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a TV show I watched faithfully as a child resurrected for today’s child. Likewise he received a transformer named Wreckgar, a familiar albeit slightly modified version from the transformers I watched as a child. Another resurrected children’s toy. I will be honest since Meghan will rat me out anyway, I still watch transformers from time to time, I am a big fan of their most recent adaptations actually.

But such resurrections are hardly confined to toys. A quick glance through recently released movies or TV shows would tell us that we are consistently resurrecting old ideas. Most recently updated is Hawaii 5-O, and Dallas. Not to mention this year we are waiting for a new ‘rebooted’ Star Trek movie, and with Disney recently buying Lucas Arts we are now looking forward to a new Star Wars sometime in 2015.

Fashion is another great example of modern day resurrection. I am not sure how many times bell bottom pants, platform shoes or aviator glasses will be in style, more than they should be that is for sure. A somewhat humorous song that is making the rounds on the radio right now is about this very phenomenon. A line from the song goes, ‘I wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible’ seems to remind us that fashion really is cyclical.    

It seems toys, movies, tv shows, and fashion are all resurrected from time to time. But what about people? Do we only get one go around the bend? One life, one death, and nothing but curtains from there? Science fiction writer David Gerrold says this about death ‘Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.’ Is that really all we have to look forward too? Will death truly conquer us?

That is the question this final sign in the book of John seeks to address. Jesus can heal sickness, Jesus can feed the masses, Jesus can even control the elements, but can he do anything about Death?

When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Bethany it is during the intense time of mourning four days after death the family and community is still gathered and sill gathering and emotions are running very high. When word reaches Martha that Jesus has arrived into town she goes to meet him. Their conversation is a powerful and moving one. Let us take it piece by piece for a few moments;

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha is putting into words what so many of us have felt in times of loss. ‘If only’. If only we have caught the cancer sooner, if only I had been there, if only he had gotten the proper medicine sooner, if only the paramedics arrived sooner, if only no one would drive under the influence, if only God would act. Martha is saying for her and for all of us we know that God could have stepped in, that if only he had this would not have happened the way it did. 

Then she finishes her 'if only' statement with a statement of faith. 'But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.' Don’t mistake this for Martha holding out hope for a resurrection. She is saying she still believes in Jesus and in God’s goodness. Tragedy invites us to do one of two things, abandon our faith, or deepen our faith. Martha has chosen to deepen hers.  

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Your brother will rise again. We know what Jesus means when he says this because we have peaked at the end of the story. We know that in a few minutes Lazarus will step out of his grave and the family will gather together again. But that is not what Martha hears. She hears a common all be it true platitude. Your brother will rise again, he is in a better place now, at least he is with At least he is not sick anymore. Martha has heard it all, and yes it is true, yes she will see her brother when they all rise at the last day, but that is of small comfort at the moment. 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus moves the discussion forward. This is no longer an exercise in platitudes this is a grand statement of belief. Jesus is saying that the resurrection that Martha, Mary, Lazarus, the Pharisees, and many other Jews believe in originate in him. That he oversees life and death, judgement and redemption. It is some impersonal experience but something wholly wrapped up in Jesus’ own personal identity. He is the resurrection and the life, he can grant life, he is greater than death. Do you believe it? 

There is no more important question in life than that one. Do you trust Jesus with your life? Both how you live it now, and what will become of it when you die? Do you believe that he is the resurrection and the life?  Martha believes “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

She was not disappointed in her. And when we trust in him we are not disappointed either.