Scripture: John 11:17-29
Key verses: (25-26) “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 my will never die. Do you believe this?”
Reflection: At most memorial services I officiate, John 11:25-26 serves as our Call to Worship. These are two verses worth memorizing; words to hang on to in the face of death. They carry such power in and of themselves, washing over us in confidence and hope in the face of death. I’ll confess that I’ve never taken time to notice the contradiction at the heart of the verse. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Which one is it? Is Jesus promising life on the other side of death, or that we will never die? These are two very different promises. The first promise seems to speak of resurrection; the second immortality. The first promise does not skirt death, the second does. So which is it?
Often Jesus is seen as the way to immortality, the way to skirt death. Yet that is not consistent with this passage, nor with our experience of life. Death is part of life. Lazarus dies. Jesus weeps in response to his death. That loss is real and painful. I have presided over the funerals of countless faithful saints who have died, and those losses were just as painfully real. I do not believe Jesus promises an escape from death. He does promise new life on the other side of death. This happens for Lazarus, though Lazarus will die again. What leads to eternal life is not resuscitation, but resurrection. And resurrection can only come on the other side of death.
Who wouldn’t want to escape the pain of death? Unfortunately, that’s not what Jesus promises. He does say, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” Because new life awaits us on the other side of death, he can then say that death will never get the final word. This is not only true in terms of our earthly death, it is true with every cross we face in our lives. Jesus does not promise an escape for the pain of the cross. He does not offer escape from the many ends of life as we have known them we encounter on our journey of faith. He does promise new life on the other side of every death.
Trusting that, we can face whatever life brings.
Prayer: We pray this day for those facing a cross, O Lord; whether it be on the coast of the Carolinas under threat of Hurricane Florence, or facing the loss of a loved one, or facing the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. May they know your presence with them on that cross they face. And may they trust that you are the resurrection and the life, that you bring new life on the other side of every cross we face. We believe this, O Lord. Help our unbelief. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].