This Is Not The End
This Sunday, I will preach from the Gospel of John chapter eleven, the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.
It's a story I've shared over 150 times in memorial services over the last twenty years and probably another three or four times in a sermon on Sundays during Lent.
I'll make sure to give you the highlights if you want to familiarize yourself with the story.
Jesus is informed that his friend Lazarus is dying, a message given to him by Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha. You can read between the lines of the text that these sisters believed that if Jesus would come and see their brother, he could heal him.
Jesus doesn’t show up. He waits four days after Lazarus dies when all hope is lost in the Jewish tradition. The spirit of the departed has moved on. There’s no chance of a miracle.
And then Jesus tells Lazarus to come out of the tomb where he’s been lying for four days, and he does.
This story is unbelievable on a lot of levels; I get that. People don’t simply rise from the dead after being buried for four days.
And yet, it’s this story that I share at nearly every funeral sermon I’ve preached—the seminal text, if you will, for a lesson on hope and life after death.
In the most dramatic moment of this story from John’s Gospel, Jesus utters these words:
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. And whoever lives and belives in me, will never die.”
John’s inclusion of this story is a bold theological move. It’s a moment when the reader is given the opportunity to choose hope over despair, life in the face of death. It’s a story that punctuates the faith that the One who has the power to raise the dead also is imbued with the power to be raised from the dead himself.
It’s a story of how death is not the end; it’s a beginning.
In his new book Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, Bono (the lead singer of U2) reflects on grief and hope amid loss and has this to say:
Finiteness and infiniteness are the two poles of the human experience. Everything we do, think, feel, imagine, discuss is framed by the notion of whether our death is the end or the beginning of something else. It takes great faith to have no faith. Great strength of character to resist the ancient texts that suggest an afterlife.
I resonated with this passage from Bono. Here he acknowledges the challenge of unknowing regarding what happens to us when we die. He also doesn’t disparage those who struggle with believing in the possibility that there is more on the other side of death.
Each of us, no matter what we might say we believe, longs for there to be more. Even those who declare they have no faith cling to life in the end, fighting for it with every fiber of their being. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.
Because life is precious, it’s beautiful and filled with all the wonder that comes with tragedy and triumph, sorrow and joy, death and rebirth.
Which is why I believe that there is more. How could there not be? I believe that the God who lovingly created a world called "good" also wants all that is good to last forever. We are ushered into another when we take our last breath in this reality.
I believe this because we are created with a longing for more for a reason. It's a Divine longing imprinted upon us by God, in whose image we are all made.
Death is not the end. It's the beginning of something else. The One who is the Resurrection and the Life showed us as much.
And this is the lesson of Jesus' raising Lazarus and his being raised on Easter morning---not even death can keep us from becoming our truest and best selves.
We were all meant for more.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.