“Word for Today” – John 11 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

March 31, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


the-end-1“And they lived happily ever after.”  I cannot tell you how many stories I have read that find their terminus in this line, especially in the children’s books I share with my two nephews, Noah and Nicholas.  And then, just in case we’re confused as to whether or not the story is really over, many of these stories include a postscript:  “The End.”  And usually, as I close the book, smiles break out on the faces of Noah and Nicholas and we all walk away with warm hearts.  After all, who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Unfortunately, endings in real life are not nearly as cheery as endings in children’s books.  In fact, come to think of it, I cannot recall a single real life ending that went completely “happily ever after.”  Sure, I’ve known many people who have generally happy marriages and families and households, but, inevitably, there are always bumps along the way.  Nobody lives happily ever after, free from all worries and cares.  Real life endings just don’t work that way.

In our reading for today from John 11, we see what, at first glance, seems to be a possibility for an unheard of “happy ending.”  As the chapter opens, Jesus receives news that one of his closest and dearest friends, a man named Lazarus, is sick.  And the prognosis is not good.  The disease is terminal.  But even after learning of Lazarus’ desperate plight, Jesus assures his followers, “This sickness will not end in death” (verse 4).  Now, after hearing this kind of astounding promise from Jesus, we may be tempted to write for ourselves what is sure to be a truly happy ending.  A terminally ill patient.  A miraculous healing.  And everyone lives happily after.

But not so fast.  Because shortly after Jesus makes his pronouncement that Lazarus will cheat his fatal infirmity, we receive the devastating headline:  “Lazarus is dead” (verse 14).  And the ending of this story quickly melts from happy to miserable.  Indeed, even the verbs of this story key us into its anguished nature:  “weeping,” “deeply moved,” “troubled” (verse 33).  Clearly, this is no happy ending.

But perhaps even more unsettling than this story’s sad state is Jesus’ seemingly failed promise to offer a very happy ending.  “This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus promises.  But it did end in death!  Lazarus died!  Has Jesus made a false promise?  Has Jesus given false hope?  No!  Because even though Lazarus has died, the story has not yet ended.  Lazarus’ sickness has not ended in death because Lazarus’ story is not over yet.  For Jesus makes his way to Lazarus’ tomb, now rancid with odor from his decaying corpse, and commands, “Lazarus, come out” (verse 43)!  And Lazarus does.  Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  And they all live…happily ever after?

As much as I would like to think that Lazarus and his family lived happily ever after, I know better.  I’m sure there were family fights and quarrels and challenges after this momentous miracle.  Indeed, by the very next chapter, people are plotting to take Lazarus’ life (cf. John 12:9-11).  And finally, whether it be by the hands of assasins or by means of more “natural causes,” Lazarus did eventually die…again.  And so, as happy as this story may seem for the moment, it still does not give us our allusive “happily ever after ending.”

Where, then, is a “happy ending” to be found?  In a world where nobody lives “happily ever after,” is there any hope for a lasting joy?  Yes.  For, in the midst of Lazarus’ death, Jesus reminds one of Lazarus’ sisters named Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (verses 25-26).  Jesus says, “There is a happy ending to be had.  But it’s not to be had on this earth.  You will die.  But when you believe in me, you will live, even though you die.  Indeed, you will never die.  Here is your happy ending.  You will never die.”

In these verses, Jesus reminds us that life on this earth never ends happily.  Because life on this earth always ends with a funeral.  But even though a casket and tears mark the end of life on this earth, Jesus promises that the end of life on this earth is not the end of life itself.  For a new life awaits us:  a life eternal with Jesus.  A life that will never end.  For Jesus is our resurrection and our eternal life.  Now, the question becomes, “Do you believe this” (verse 26)?  Do you believe that Jesus can and will give you a life that never ends?  Because if you do, then this promise is for you:  Even though you die, you will live.  And you will live happily ever after.  The (but the whole point is your life won’t) End.

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Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – John 10 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – John 12 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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