Sunday, April 6, 2014

A displaced punch-line

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…” (John 11:25) It's the punch-line to the story in John 11. And it's completely out of place. The punch- line is supposed to come at the end of a story, not half way through. But here it is, smack dab in the middle of the story.

Often, we think of this as the “Raising of Lazarus", but that part of the story only takes place at the very end. This story is really about the death of Lazarus. And it’s filled with details that anyone who has ever experienced the death of someone they love can relate to. There is the desperate call to God for help. The feeling of disappointment with God, abandonment, anger. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And, of course, there is deep sorrow and there are tears.

Jesus is like a part of the family and he, too, is caught up in the depth of emotion that death brings to those who have lost someone they love.

And that’s when Jesus speaks these words of promise to Martha. He tells her Lazarus will rise again. And she acknowledges that she knows that will be true in the resurrection on the last day. But he tells her, “No, you don’t have to wait until some day in the future. The resurrection is right here, right now. I am the resurrection and the life. Believe in me and experience that today and forever.”

Just imagine how differently this story would read if Jesus had spoken these words at the end of the story. If, after Lazarus is raised from the dead, Jesus turned to the people and announced, “I am the resurrection and the life!” It would be like, “Do you see that dead guy living again? I am the resurrection and the life! Ta-da!”

That might make a certain amount of sense to us because it falls in line with the way most of us tend to think. We like glory theology that is all about seeing God in power and majesty making amazing things happen for us and the world around us. Everything’s coming up roses for me and my God! It’s the American way and part of what makes preachers like Joel Osteen so popular. God wants you to be prosperous. Yeah, God!

But that’s not the truth of the gospel. The truth of the gospel is the way of the cross. God chooses to make himself known to us in a way we would never choose ourselves. In our sorrow. In our suffering. In times of despair. It’s when we’re stripped of all that’s dear to us that we find the true source of our strength and hope.

I am the resurrection and the life! These words are spoken to Martha while Lazarus is stone cold dead in the tomb because that’s when the promise matters. The promise isn’t given after the resurrection. We don’t need it when we all live happily ever after. The promise is given when the reality of death is kicking us in the gut. Jesus experienced that pain. He knew when the promise of the resurrection mattered. In the face of death, the promise itself becomes a source of life: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Thanks be to God!

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