In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Death under any circumstance is terribly difficult, isn’t it? But when death comes suddenly, prematurely, and catastrophically the way it did to Betsy, it is even harder for us to accept. Like Martha in this evening’s Gospel lesson we are tempted to throw our hands up and cry out in despair, “Why did you let this happen, Lord?” If you are hoping that I will give you a definitive answer to that question, you will be sorely disappointed because I cannot. I do not know why God in his infinite love and wisdom for his human creatures allows evil to afflict us in the way that Betsy’s lung disease afflicted her. Neither do I know why God does not let us humans in on the joke, why he does not tell us why he allows evil to exist in his good creation.
All this suggests that we would be much better served if we stopped asking the why questions and concentrated more on what God is doing about the problem of evil and death. If you listened carefully to Jesus’ response to Martha’s “why” question in the Gospel lesson, you noticed that he did just that. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, Jesus gave Martha a much more satisfactory answer and that is what I want to focus on this evening because it is the only basis for real hope and real Good News in the midst of our grief and loss. Specifically I want to offer you a word of Christian hope and look briefly at what that is all about.
From all eternity God has always had a rescue plan to save us from the power of sin and death. It started with the calling of his people Israel and culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what the whole narrative of Scripture is about and I obviously don’t have the time to rehearse it all for you tonight (aren’t you glad?). In telling Martha that he is the resur-rection and the life, Jesus was summarizing a story Martha would have known very well, the story of God’s rescue plan for us. But Jesus added a new chapter to it and here it is. God has entered human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to rescue us from the tyranny of evil and death by dying on a cross for us so that we could be reconciled to him forever. God did this for us because he loves us and created us to have a relationship with him, not to destroy us.
On the cross, God has dealt decisively with evil and death, bearing himself its terrible consequences and the consequences of our rebellion against him, thereby giving us a real hope and chance to live with him now and forever. “But wait,” you say. “Look around you! Are you kidding? Evil and death are still flourishing! Betsy’s untimely and awful demise is proof of that.” True enough. Evil and death still exist in God’s good but fallen world. But the cross is not the end of the story. As Jesus reminded Martha, his resurrection gives us a preview of coming attractions of what God ultimately has in store for his people.
As both the OT and NT tell us, God does not intend to destroy his world or his people. Instead, he intends to renew it and his people in a mighty act of recreation. When Christ returns in great power and glory, he will bring about his new heavens and earth, what Scripture calls the New Creation. Our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead and we will be given a new resurrection body, the kind of body Jesus has. Our new resurrection body will be impervious to all the nasty things that can afflict our mortal bodies. In the new heavens and earth, the New Creation, there will be no more suffering or separation or sorrow or sickness or disease or evil or death—ever. There will be new life to live and new work to do, work that will bring God praise and glory, life and work that we will find infinitely fulfilling and meaningful. And best of all we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever. We need to be careful about getting too specific about all this because Scripture is not terribly specific. But whatever the New Creation looks like it will surely be more glorious than we can comprehend or imagine because God is its author.
I don’t know about you but I find the hope of New Creation to be a much fuller and richer hope than the idea of dying and going to heaven to spend the rest of eternity as a disembodied spirit as some believe. And from what I know about Betsy, I suspect she would too. A person as full of zest for life and having a passion to help improve the lives of others, in large part by helping improve teaching and learning, would surely relish living in God’s New Creation with her new resurrection body where there will be infinite opportunities for her to continue to grow in her work and love for others.
So why am I telling you all this? Because this is the hope to which Jesus was alluding when he told Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. It is God’s gift of grace offered freely to everyone without exception. This is also the hope to which we commend Betsy this evening.
But what about us? After Jesus finished telling Martha about the hope of New Creation that was in him, he asked Martha the fifty-cent question. “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that those who live and believe in me will live, even though their bodies die?” Likewise, Jesus asks us the same question in the midst of our grief. “Do you believe this?” The extent to which we can answer yes is the extent to which we can have real hope and real Good News to sustain us in our grief and loss.
May the God of love and power bless us with the grace to answer yes to Jesus’ gracious question. May God bless us with a sure and certain hope so that we know Betsy is with the Lord who loved and claimed her from all eternity. May God also bestow on us a faith that will lead us to affirm the wondrous and mind-blowing truth that nothing in all creation, not the terrible lung disease that afflicted Betsy and not even her death, can separate her from God’s great love in Christ for her (cf. Romans 8.31-39). If you have that kind of hope and faith, you really do have Good News, not only for Betsy, but also for yourself, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.