We have all attended more funerals than we cared to. I remember standing with my family as we grieved the loss of my sixteen-year old cousin who went into cardiac arrest at church just days before. I’ll never forget the small caskets that held two young children who tragically drowned when the car they were in rolled into the Ohio River. And I can still feel the grip of my friend’s hand as she withered away because of cancer. I kissed her forehead and cried, leaving Illinois knowing I would never see her again.
Funerals remind us that there is something wrong with this world. Things are not as they should be—at least for now. If the world is going to be made right there must be someone who is greater than death. There must be one who can make death yield to the sound of his voice. This is what Jesus does throughout the gospels. He told Jairus’ daughter to rise and she did. He told Lazarus to come out and he came. Jesus spoke, and death yielded.
When we see Jesus resurrect the dead in the gospels we want to insist like Martha, “Lord, if you had been here, my loved one would not have died.” (John 11:21) If he had been here we could have sent the hospice workers home. If he had been here the diagnosis would have changed, the scans would have become clear, and pain would have ceased.
There is hope in these passages, but hope is never about the present. After all, Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus were not raised to live that state forever. They weren’t meant to. Eventually they died again. Perhaps they grew old and died peacefully in their sleep, but their deaths may have been difficult, long, and painful. There is hope in these passages, but that hope doesn’t alleviate every pain now. The hospice workers will stay, the diagnosis may not change, and the scans may remain unclear.
Our culture often greets death as a friend. Physician-assisted suicide alleges hope for those suffering. In these cases death is to be embraced and appreciated. We are told to make friends the very thing that is wrong with the world. The gospel never confronts death as a friend. Because death is the result of sin (Rom. 5:12) the gospel meets death as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), an enemy it can and will overcome.
The hope in these passages is that the one who can raised the dead will himself be raised from the dead. When Martha pleads her case to Jesus, he tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” No wonder Jesus could look at Jairus in the midst of skeptics and say, “Do not fear. Only believe!” (Mark 5:36)
The gospel narratives show us that Jesus is greater than death, but the resurrection of Jesus shows us that Jesus defeats death. As Luther said, death’s doom is sure. The resurrected Christ will one day end death for all eternity (1 Cor. 15:26). The Christian’s hope is sharing in the resurrection of Jesus. He can raise the dead, was risen from the dead, and will one day raise us from the dead.
I wonder how hopeful Lazarus and the little girl were when they faced death the second time. They had personally experienced that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. They would die, but because of Christ they would live. This is our hope as well. It is how we live with hopeful eyes in the midst of death, the funeral parlor, and the graveside. To be in Christ is to be in the resurrection and the life. We will die, but because of Christ, we will live.