Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dear Jesus: You Promised a Happy Ending

The promises of Jesus: Peace. Joy.  Love. Forgiveness. Healing. Answers to prayer.  Abundant life.  It sounds lovely.

So why do we struggle with worry and disappointment? Why do we pray for healing and watch people die? Why do we live in shame and sadness? Why are we lonely? Where are the peace and joy?  Where is the unified community?  What's up?  This isn't what we signed up for.

Where's the happily ever after?  Where are the happy endings?

Maybe we're just looking at this the wrong way.  Maybe we have redefined peace, love, and joy in ways that focus on material comfort and the absence of pain or struggle. Maybe instead of wrestling with repentance and receiving the gift of forgiveness, we just want issue to go away.  Maybe building solid spiritual community is just hard.

Maybe we're just in a hurry.
We want the happy ending now instead of waiting until the ending.

Case in point: The story of Lazarus in John chapter 11.

The story begins when Jesus gets a message that his dear friend Lazarus is deathly ill. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha live in Bethany, about a two-day trip, so Lazarus has already been sick for a few days when Jesus gets the message.  The passage tells us that Mary is the one who poured expensive perfume on Jesus' feet in anticipation of his death, and it reminds us that Jesus dearly loves this family.

Nevertheless, Jesus doesn't seem too concerned by the message.  He says, "Lazarus' sickness won't end in death, but will bring great glory to God."  He promises a happy ending, and then he continues doing whatever he is doing.  Two days later Jesus abruptly tells his disciples they're going to see Lazarus.

The thing is, his disciples don't really think this is a good idea.  The last time Jesus was in the neighborhood, some Jews tried to get Jesus killed, and there's a very real possibility this trip could be dangerous.  "Why would you go back?" they ask.

At this point, Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus has gone to sleep.
This seems like good news to the disciples.  If Lazarus is sleeping peacefully, the sickness has probably run its course, and Lazarus is going to be fine.  It's definitely not a reason to risk all their lives.

But Jesus used "sleep" as a metaphor for "death."  Lazarus is dead.  In fact, Jesus tells His disciples He's glad He wasn't present when Lazarus died.  He tells them, "Now you will see and believe."

This doesn't seem like the happy ending Jesus promised.

The thing is, this isn't the end.
It looks bad.  It looks like the end.
But it's not.

You know the story.  Jesus is visibly moved by the sisters' sorrow.  He loves this family.
He goes with them to the tomb and tells the people following them to move the stone covering that tomb.  He lifts His eyes toward heaven, and thanks God for listening to Him.

He calls for Lazarus to come out.
And then, the man who was dead walked out of his tomb, still wrapped in his burial shroud.  Everyone cheers.  The impossible has happened.  The sisters hug their brother. They hug Jesus. The mourners go home.  Martha cooks up some dinner for Jesus and His disciples.

A happy ending. Just like Jesus promised.
It's just that the ending came a little later than everyone thought it would.

How many times do we despair when we think God has not come through?  How many times do we give up hope when things don't turn out the way we want?  The way we planned?

It looks like the end, and it's not the end we want.

But maybe it's not really the end.  Maybe the the story is still happening.  Maybe God's still at work.

That was definitely true with Lazarus.
It's also true with us.

God's telling a story that brings glory to Him.  That draws us closer to Him.
And it's not the end until it's the end.

Let's enjoy the story.

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