John 11:17-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus the Resurrection and the Life
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
If I had to do it all over again, I’d _______________________.
What would you place in that blank?
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” says Martha.
And we often join Martha and say things like:
If only I would have followed my gut, we wouldn’t have lost all that money.
If only I would have noticed the signs, I wouldn’t be trapped in this miserable marriage.
If only I would have cherished my kids when they were younger, I wouldn’t be feeling so much regret now.
If only I would have gotten a new battery for the minivan months ago, I wouldn’t be stranded here in this parking lot tonight.
If only I would have spent less time at the office.
I know you can relate.
Martha was gazing backward wishing reality was different. Jesus points her forward to what reality will be. Martha knows in general that Lazarus will rise again but this isn’t what Jesus is getting at here.
Jesus is saying, “Look at me. Fix your eyes here. Do you believe what is before your eyes in this very moment? I know Lazarus is dead. I know you lost all the money. I see who your husband is and that you feel trapped. And I know about the battery thing and was wondering about why you were sitting there with the key on listening to music for so long. I recognize your regrets.
But, this isn’t the way it will be. You will live, really live, in the future. You will never die. The wolf will live with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6). One day, this will all be put right when my Kingdom comes. And I know you don’t see it now, but this reality can be made manifest today even.
But, if you look toward the past with longing, with “if only” I could go back I would put it right, you’ll be living in a movie, while I’m here waiting in reality.”
We can’t go back. And we can’t change it.
We try. We play the scenarios over in our head again and again, but no matter how often we try to rewrite the script, the movie of our past is already playing at the Regret-a-plex movie theater in our head.
Then, we often try to write another movie, one with a better ending in mind. We try to learn from our mistakes and resolve to live differently, to achieve a different outcome.
Sometimes this works for us and we truly do learn from our mistakes in practical ways and we stop smoking, or we become more patient, or we learn to avoid the risky investment. But more often than not, the scenes have changed while the primary character we are playing remains the same.
This is one of the many places in scripture we can spot a different reality reverberating under the surface of history if we look closely enough. This reality is the resurrection and the life standing right before Mary.
It’s the Kingdom of God breaking through in the present tense, away from the movie set of our lives, and out in the parking lot where the mini-van won’t start, and you have not eaten in hours, and the kids have no idea their complaining was never, ever supposed to be in the script.
If we try to rewrite our script, present day reality always busts through and destroys all the on stage furniture. If we try to write a better future ending, present day reality always busts through and destroys all the on stage furniture, only this time while laughing at our plans.
The reality outside of our scripted lives, in the parking lot where the minivan won’t start, is Jesus is the resurrection and the life for us today, right now. God uses our circumstances to melt through the projector film so we can glimpse the reality of a near Kingdom through the little, burned out holes.
But then we see these pesky, annoying words that we just know we never ever wrote in our script:
even though they die.
There is a membrane-like veil between our world and the Kingdom world that is near. And we do everything we can to avoid this membrane.
We’d rather write our own movies, create our own idealized worlds, even though deep down we know we were made for this Kingdom world Jesus keeps talking about.
Why? What is it about living in this in-between membrane we avoid?
We hate the membrane because what brings the Kingdom especially near is living directly into whatever is, and that usually involves suffering. We must face and live in the reality of our lives where mistakes are made and where pain abounds.
If we turn from the “if onlys” and future rewrites, and live our real lives, we’ll find ourselves caught often in the reality between these two worlds – and that’s a world where our story is being written by a Screenwriter other than ourselves. That’s risky. That’s unknown. But at least it’s real.
This place is where we find ourselves on the cross in the daily circumstances of our lives. And we suffer there. But, we live there too. Eternally.
Take some time today and imagine yourself in this story. Allow Jesus to hear your “if onlys” and listen for what He is saying in response.