“Now, a certain man was sick...” Rick was kind. He knew my name before I knew his. The few times we talked, I felt like I should get to know this guy. I had actually planned to strike up a conversation the next time I saw him at church.
But there was no next time.
A few weeks ago, he died.
There was some warning: He had surgery for cancer a couple of months ago and never got better. I wasn’t really aware of any of this because, apparently, I was too busy.
We’ve had quite a few deaths recently at First Lutheran and I didn’t attend any of the other funerals. I didn’t even think about it that much.
For some reason, maybe because, in the back of my mind, I had planned to get to know this wonderful person and had been denied, his death really affected me and I became aware of how unaware I had been.
So, Mom and I hopped in the car and headed up to Bloomington, roughly an hour away, to see Rick off.
I Was Late!
There was some traffic and we arrived late. I missed the Green Acres Memorial Chapel on the first pass.
When we got there, the small chapel was packed. Mom had walked in and was seated somewhere.
It was an open casket.
And I had a weird thought.
I so hate to show up late to anything! It occurred to me, while I was castigating myself for standing there on the edge of the crowd, being late...
Rick had showed up on time.
Rick was not busy. He had no scheduling worries. He would never be late for anything again.
Death snatched him up. Death stopped for him. There is no waiting with death, no scheduling. A dead body is a sermon no busy person like me can ignore. Rick’s death is a reminder that I’m only setting appointments by permission. And if death revokes my privileges, the world will keep turning, the truly important things will be done without me or not at all, and the rest will be forgotten.
A rather jarring sermon.
A friend from church waved me over and I sat down toward the back.
Pastor Kolander was preaching from John 11, the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Pastor preached the resurrection from the dead to a packed house. And I had another thought.
Jesus showed up late for the funeral too.
Jesus was late... but he wasn’t late for lack of planning. His was a purposeful lateness. Mary was right; If Jesus had been there in time, he could have healed this man whom he loved.
He let Lazarus die to show that death wouldn’t have the last word. In doing so, Jesus suffered the interruption of death, the jarring rudeness of death as a precursor to his own.
John is all about everybody looking at their feet when interacting with Jesus. Jesus wants them to engage, to look up, to look him right in the eye and hear what he is saying in the face of all the dirt and grime they see as they look down.
Jesus says, ‘your brother will rise again, [Martha].’
Martha says, ‘I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection on the last day.’
Jesus says, ‘Martha... listen to me! Look up! I AM THE RESURRECTION!’
Lazarus dies so that the glory of God might be revealed. Jesus, THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE, uses this man as a parable, demonstrating that He has the power to demolish the power of the grave and empty the crypt.
After that, I imagine that Lazarus goes back to work, his purpose as a sermon illustration fulfilled, making appointments, making a living, being busy again, maybe taking care of his sister, avoiding the authorities (they were plotting to kill him)... and perhaps avoiding other peoples' funerals. Regardless, Lazarus would face death again.
But this raising of Lazarus was just a bold underlining of Jesus true identity. Jesus let Lazarus die to break the grip of death, while He wept in the face of it, to show His true identity and reveal who had the upper hand.
When THE RESURRECTION takes on death in His own body on the cross, he breaks death’s back.
So, Jesus redeems even being late and missing out. Loss and regret won't last and I will get to see Rick again after all.