I have had the joy of being part of the NEXT Church Conference in Minneapolis this week. Therefore, I have been unable to work on translating the long text of John 11:1-45.
I would like to offer this thought. I have found this to be a very powerful text for funerals, particularly the interchange between Jesus and Martha. When she says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," I hear a very familiar tendency among those who are grieving to regret that past. It is a time of "woulda, coulda, shoulda," when we think of harsh words that we would love to retract or soft words that we wish we had expressed. What strikes me is that asking those questions and expressing those regrets is really a sign of love. Those regrets should be affirmed, not in a way of condemning, but in a way of accepting that we live in the forward march of time and simply cannot go back and un-do what has been done. That is also why I always include at least part of a prayer of confession in a funeral service.
Jesus' response to Martha is, "Your brother will rise again." She hears this as - it seems to me - a confessional formula and immediately goes into her Confirmation mode by saying the right doctrinal thing: "I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." I'll bet she got a gold star on the chart once for getting that one right! What I hear in that response is that Martha is willing to accept resurrection as some abstract thing that happens so far in the future that it has no meaningful impact on her moment. Maybe I'm wrong about Martha, but I know that when I think of resurrection that is often how I think of it. "Yeah, sure, I believe in the resurrection of the dead." So what? It's out of my hands and I'll be dead when it happens or if it doesn't happen, so ... really, so what?
But Jesus is not talking about an abstract doctrine of an abstract future that has no bearing on the now. At this moment, I imagine this scene looking like this. Martha looks behind with regret. Martha looks forward with some measure of hope. But, Jesus cups her face in his hands and looks her in the eyes and says, "I am the resurrection and the life." I am - here and now - I am - not was, not will be - I am the resurrection and the life.
It seems that to locate the resurrection in the future, near or distant, is to misunderstand what it means that, in Christ, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
As we journey through the season of Lent, we journey in the company of the resurrection and the life, Jesus Christ. May your journey be blessed with the presence of life itself, even in times of grief, regret, or forlorn hope.