The Jesus story declares that the human story does not end with death! To be sure, death looms largely within the story. Along the way we read of people dying, and as the story moves forward Jesus begins to make ominous predictions of his own death. The simple, sad, and undeniable fact of life appears to be that death trumps all.
Our world today apparently offers substantial confirmation. Terror groups wreak havoc, kill, and conquer! In the months before Easter and the weeks since the whole world has been shrouded with the prospects of a lethal virus determining the course of our lives, if not ending them. Apparently the most common of activities and experiences have now become hazardous to our health. Literally, in any given place, in the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch, we face the inevitable outcome. This is the way the story ends—whether mundane or macabre, definitely death!
But then there is Jesus. In his story, a beloved friend Lazarus dies four days before Jesus’ arrival (John 11). That means death and decay have set in, Lazarus’ body had begun to de-compose, pull apart, breakdown at the cellular level, separating out the varied elements, to become a rotting mess host to organisms that breed and feed on the “death’s unmakings.” For confirmation there was the smell proving the inevitable fact of un-life. Lazarus was dead.
But Jesus calls him back. With a commanding, “Come forth!” the decomposing recomposes, constituent parts come together, dying reverses, and remains return ready for reanimation, a resumption of sensation—hearing, feeling, willing, and acting. The dead returns.
But this is not a resurrection. This is a return. At that moment, for Lazarus, it is as though the reverse button is hit on his human story, a reversal to the story that had been, and then a resumption to the story. It is not quite the same and yet the subject is the same and it remains his same story that will once again lead to a dying.
But this one time reversal of the irreversible with Lazarus is also a sign, the ultimate sign of what Jesus will do. He will die just as surely as Lazarus died. But Jesus will not suffer the ravages of decomposition, elemental breakdown, and the inevitable conclusion of the Human story that he had lived. Rather, on the third day–there is re-creation, glorification, indeed, there is resurrection. It is the same Jesus, but not quite the same. Jesus but different, changed, transformed by indestructible life that is more alive than humans can now know, that can no longer be touched by death, terrified by grave, or threatened by mortality.
This resurrection signals a re-creation of Jesus’ body, now alive forevermore. This resurrection becomes a revelation: Jesus’ story is how the human story rightly proceeds.
In the case of resurrection, it is as though the fast forward button is hit on the human story, so that who and how we shall be becomes radiantly evident in Jesus. In fact, in Jesus we find out about an alternate ending to the human story we didn’t know anything about, an alternate ending which turns out to be like the long-forgotten original. In resurrection Fast Forward is hit to this “original ending” and then brilliantly that ending begins to draw us forward, even before it’s time, into the right ending that is not so much a conclusion as a consummation—the arrival of the very good finale of one story that quickly transposes into the overture of the next grand Opus of God.
Death does not end the human story.
The threat and perils of our world cannot stand and prevail.
We are not foolish in face of danger, but also we are not fooled by the fact of danger. We fear more the one who can protect our physical, here and now though still dying, mortal bodies, AND who can protect and preserve our ways toward the original and proper ending of our human story.
We begin now to live into the proper ending which is now ours, guaranteed! That means a holiness that is radiant with Jesus-light, a holiness that receives and reflects Jesus-love, that is indeed subject to lingering deadly dangers and that may suffer and even “die.” In fact, this means a Spirit-empowered holiness that would rather die than to compromise the character and mission of Jesus. A holiness that demonstrates the purity of the person’s interior life by the purity—that is the singularity of godly focus and right-living—of one’s way of relating and responding to the world around us.
We begin now to reclaim the whole world and the whole of creation as the proper and full arena for God’s redeeming and recreating mission. All authority has been granted to the One who was dead but is now alive forever, and it is on his authority that we live and make disciples; it is with confidence that it is in the Presence of this ultimate authority that we participate in what he is doing and will surely accomplish.
We weather the threats, persevere in playing our part, and anticipate sharing in Jesus’ final victory no matter what we see, how it may feel, and how others may forecast outcomes.
For we know the One on whom we have believed and we are confident that this One is able to keep what we have entrusted to him—the whole of our being, all of our future, all of our hopes, all of our loved ones, all of our highest aspirations for good—until that day comes in fullness, because we already see and live in its light now.
No hand wringing, no pretending that our part is the whole, no wailing over what seems or feels like losses or reversals. We have seen the alternate ending, we are joined to the one who has already gone there and is bringing “there” here within us and among us and through us “before the time.”
A loss or set-back in “the culture wars” or “an election” or “the courts” does not deter us; this is not an experience of suffering—it is simply a welcome to the mission! The persection and martyrdom of some of us are forms of suffering for us and our friends, but this cannot cause us to rethink the basic mission and our willingness to accept threat and peril as signs not of our defeat but of the evil one’s final twitching in the course of dying the second death.
Jesus promised his disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit filled their lives and their communities. Then, they would bear witness to him and tell his story among the nations of the world. We join them by receiving the promised Spirit of resurrection, and offering empowered witness to the Jesus way of life—deny self as the center of the universe, commit self to the way of the cross and its consequences, and follow Jesus fully, come what may, until we and all reach resurrection morn.