[This was a message presented during a memorial service today.]
As I learned a little bit about Ella last week, I got the idea she was someone I would have liked knowing. It seems she tried her hand at everything. She was an adventurous traveler, a musician, an avid listener of music, a seamstress, a history buff, and a nurse. And I’m sure that had I gotten to know her, she would have opened my eyes to a whole culture I know nothing about, the world of QVC.
As you gather to honor a mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and friend today, it’s good to laugh together as well as to grieve together. It’s wonderful to draw on happy memories in the midst of grief.
But, of course, our laughter and smiles would amount to nothing more than whistling in the dark were it not for Jesus Christ. Jesus is God in human flesh, Who led a sinless life and sacrificed Himself on the cross He didn’t deserve so that all who daily turn from sin and daily entrust their lives to Him have life with God today and, beyond the gates of our own death, in eternity, a place where death and grief will no longer afflict us. As Jesus told a man named Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]
In the midst of your grief for one you loved and the inevitable reminder of your own mortality your loss brings, it’s good to remember that we have not only Jesus’ own resurrection to remind us of His power over death and life. He displayed this power on more than a few occasions, in the presence of many hundreds of witnesses. In fact, just a few verses beyond our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is seen displaying this power again in raising yet another person from the dead.
In our lesson, John 11:21-27, Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. Jesus had known that Lazarus was dying several days earlier and had deliberately waited for Lazarus’ death before journeying to the village of Bethany with the twelve apostles. His intention was to demonstrate the power of God to bring new life to the dead, a sign of Who He was and is. He would raise Lazarus from the dead.
But, of course, nobody else knew that. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Martha initially speaks to Jesus almost reproachfully.
Yet, even her words of reproach are tinged with an understanding of just Who Jesus is and what He can do for those who trust in Him. “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.”
Even now, in the midst of my grief, Martha was saying, I know Your connection to God the Father. Even now, I understand that You are more than just a man, more than a great teacher or a good guy. And even now, I know that you have the power to reverse the impact that sin, death, and darkness have on human life. You can change everything.
Martha, in a way, had no idea what she was saying. All she knew was that she trusted--she believed in--Jesus. And you can too. Even in the midst of your grief.
Jesus assured Martha that her brother would rise again. Pious Jews, especially those who belonged to the sect of Judaism known as Pharisees, believed that those who trusted in God would rise from the dead, that the grave was not the end of life for those who lived a lifestyle of repentance and belief. And so, Martha says of her brother: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
'Wait a moment,' Jesus seems to say next, 'you miss my point, Martha. I’m not saying that God has control over life and death just in the sweet by-and-by. God controls life and death and eternity here and now!'
Eternity in the presence of God can invade the earthly lives of anyone who trusts in Christ. That’s true right now, even in the midst of griefs and challenges. And so Jesus tells Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
For the believer in the God we meet and know in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead isn’t some theological abstraction, a phrase in a dusty creed. Resurrected life happens in Him. Life beyond the grave and life beyond the fear of death, the fear of a meaningless life, happens in Jesus and in Jesus alone.
This is why Jesus says elsewhere: “I and the Father are one” and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Jesus is the way to life. He’s the source of all life and the source of all life beyond the grave. Only Jesus can comfort us in our sorrow, give meaning to our lives, and save us from sin and death.
That's why the first Christians said: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]
This is exactly what Jesus told Martha as she grieved for her brother. It’s what He tells you and me today. And He promises Martha, and you, and me, and all who grieve or who face death themselves: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Then Jesus asked the most important question any of us will ever be asked, the question on which the fate of our eternal existences hinges, and the question which, I am told, Ella answered in the affirmative: “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this?
Do you believe that Jesus Himself rose from the dead, a fact that more than 500 witnesses insisted on despite facing certain persecution and possible death for sticking to their witness?
Do you believe that Jesus has the power to give life beyond the grave?
Do you believe that Jesus has the power to give you life, strength, joy, comfort, peace, and purpose even now?
When Martha was asked if she believed, her response was clear: “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
None of us knows what our tomorrows in this world may bring. But we do know that everything--past, present, future, and eternity--belongs to the God we meet in Jesus Christ.
That was the faith of Martha.
It was Ella’s faith.
It's the faith of Christ's Church.
And it can be our faith too.
Jesus is the resurrection, the God Who makes all things new. As you grieve and look to your future, trust in Him to be your resurrection and your life. He will never let you down. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]