Two events are juxtaposed in my current experience. We just celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead—the one cataclysmic event that validates both His and our claims about what is collectively called the Christian Faith. And now, this coming Saturday, we will pause to celebrate the life of one of our friends and Christian brothers. The brother passed from this life a couple of weeks ago, and his memorial service is two days away.
Resurrection and death. We can’t really have one without the other. This struck me afresh a few years ago as I was re-reading John 11. I can hardly make it through a memorial service without reading Jesus’ stirring words to the sister of a friend that had just died. He said to her, “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” (John 11:25-26a, NIV). What a dramatic and powerful statement in the house of mourning! When I read that statement afresh, it struck me as if for the first time, there is no resurrection without death. For Jesus Himself to be “the resurrection,” then He must first experience death. The writer to the Hebrews says, “… He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, NIV, my emphasis).
“Taste death for everyone.” What a phrase! Just a paragraph or so later, that same writer says this: “He too [meaning Jesus] shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery to their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15, NIV). So, Jesus has taken death into Himself so that through His resurrection He might conquer the power of death over God’s children once and for all.
As I see it, that changes everything for this coming Saturday! My friend confirmed his personal faith in the grace of God expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ just a couple of years ago, at the age of 80. It was a great pleasure to baptize him to declare the renewal of his faith in Jesus. So this Saturday, we are not just looking back to remember a life that is now over. Rather, we are not only looking back with gratitude, but even more, we are looking forward with hope to a life that is just now beginning.
For the followers of Jesus, Death has been transformed from the Executioner to the Escort. He is no longer tasked simply to cut short this mortal life, but now he is called to guide Jesus’ people to the door of the fullness of eternal life. Death and resurrection. This changes everything for every day, doesn’t it? The question Jesus asked Martha after His resounding and audacious claim to be “the resurrection and the life” was challenging: “Do you believe this?” Good question for us, too.