It should come as no surprise to you that I have been thinking about funerals and death a lot. No, not my own. But, having three funerals in the last four weeks has got me to thinking about death. Honestly, I don’t know if we are accustomed to living in a culture that talks about death, that thinks about death, that even celebrates death. I think, when it comes right down to it, we’d rather not have anything to do with death. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t tell the younger members of our families that Fluffy went to go live on a farm when we all really know what happened to Fluffy.
I was having a conversation with the son of one of our members who recently passed away. It was in a moment of sheer honesty that he said to me “you must hate this.” The “this” he was speaking of was funerals. I paused for a moment and said “no.” See, sometimes we get bogged down in the life of the church, and that’s not always a bad thing. But, we have to talk about the details of the church. Who is going to play and what. What are the dates for VBS? Are we doing an Easter breakfast? These details. They’re all really important things to discuss. But sometimes, like I said, we get bogged down in the details.
There are precious moments when we are allowed to see these brief holy glimpses. Glimpses of how God really is moving and working in our lives. Moments when our guards are down and we are unprepared but grateful for the Holy. One of those moments is at the death of a loved one. I get the honor of being with those still here on earth and proclaiming that even in death there is the promise of life. I get the honor of promising that death does not have the final word. I get the honor of watching the Holy happen. I pretty much have the most amazing job ever.
Part of why I love doing what I do is because I know I don’t do it alone. All of us are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We are all called to proclaim that because Christ died, we shall live. We are all called to share the promise of life eternal to those who believe. We never do this alone because Christ is always with us, leading and guiding. Our Gospel lesson today is one that gives me great comfort because it reminds me that Christ has been in the tough places and anytime I’m in a tough situation, it’s good for me to remember that Christ is already there–waiting for me.
Jesus hears that his friend, whom he loves, Lazarus is ill. Now, if this were current day United States, Jesus would drop everything he was doing to be at the bedside of Lazarus, much like any of us would with our loved ones. But, instead Jesus stays for a few days before attending to his friend. Martha, who is understandably upset, says to Jesus “if you had been here my brother would not have died.” It is then that we see that Jesus goes to the places of death in order to proclaim life. What is ironic is that it is this proclamation that will ultimately lead to his death. This interaction with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha is one of the final straws that leads to his arrest and betrayal. But that doesn’t matter. Jesus is going to proclaim life in the midst of death.
For those of you that farm and plant crops, why do you do it? Year after year, generation after generation, why do you do it? You really have no idea whether or not you will get your money back, let alone make a profit. There’s really no telling what the weather is going to do. There are so many question marks yet you do it, many times over. I’m sure some of you are sitting here today anxious to get started on preparations for another season. Have you ever thought that perhaps you do this because it’s exactly what Christ would do: go to a place of death in order to proclaim life? It sounds strange, but stick with me here.
To the naked eye (or to someone like me) a field right now looks like it has no promise. The signs of winter are still very present. Ground up corn stalks are worn from the bitter January winds. There is debris from snow that was blown about. There may even be a dead critter or two. But, if you work these fields, that’s not what you see. What you see isn’t dirt–it’s soil. You don’t see death, you see life. You don’t see failure–you see potential. If farming is your life, I doubt you’ve thought of it this way before. But perhaps, just maybe, you continue doing this year after year because like all of us, you are called to the places of death to proclaim life.
This is completely counter cultural to what we’re used to. We attend funerals and call it
“closure.” But, in reality, we know, that death is not the final word. We know that the tomb was empty on Easter morning. We live in the promise that certainly if we were baptized into Christ Jesus’ death, we shall certainly be resurrected like Jesus. Sometimes we are called to places that stink (literally and figuratively) to proclaim life and to proclaim the good news. Martha is hesitant for Jesus to roll the stone away because Lazarus has been dead for four days already and there is a stench. But, how many times have you been with a loved one who is teetering between life and death and thought to yourself “this stinks.” But we’re still there. We are called to those places where the gap between the now and not yet is so small yet only the Holy can bridge the gap.
We must go to the places of death to proclaim life. We keep planting because we believe that God will bring something out of the ground. We mourn at funerals, yes, but we also celebrate a life well lived and we celebrate the hope that death is not the final chapter of our lives. We show up on Easter morning because we know that the tomb will be empty and Christ rose again–for us! Friends, we are surrounded by bad news every day. You only have to watch the first few minutes of the news to know that. There are people who are dying from preventable diseases; there are children in this country who will go to bed hungry tonight; in certain countries, women are denied an education; there are still hundreds of people in Malaysia that wonder what has happened to their loved ones who did something as mundane as board a plane. Death is all around us. Death is a reality, yes, but it is not the final word.
We have a God that loves us so much that we have a promise in Jesus Christ of life eternal. All of us will die, that’s the sad truth of all of this. For all of our sakes I hope it’s later rather than sooner. But, when we die, we complete our baptismal journeys, believing in the hope and promise that we will be raised again.
Going to the places of death to proclaim life isn’t easy. It isn’t the “norm” and it certainly isn’t what this culture is used to. But I believe that people are hungry for the good news. I think people need it and want it as badly as they would want a drink of water in the desert. Part of what we are called to do is to proclaim this good news to anyone who will hear it or who wants to hear it. Death does not have the final word. Yes, we still can be and will be sad when someone we love or care about passes away. But, I hope we can all take comfort in knowing that when the final days come and the stone is rolled away, all of us will be raised to life eternal. We will join all the company of saints who have gone before us. Sometimes we are called to the places of death to proclaim life because we know, death is not the final word.