I had a conversation yesterday morning with someone (who is younger than me) who had recently attended a funeral of someone who was younger than he.  Somewhere in that conversation I said, “I believe that in every year of my ministry I have conducted at least one funeral of someone younger than me – and the odds of this streak continuing increase each year.  These funerals always serve as a reminder to me of my own mortality.”  Or, as our Lord God said to Adam in the last recorded words from the Garden of Eden, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3.19)
The day before I had had a conversation with someone who recently turned 89.  Though she has been in and out of the hospital multiple times in the past couple years, she commented that she occasionally struggles with feeling guilty in being so blessed.  Rather than thinking about her various health maladies, her focus was upon all of the goodness and mercy found in every day of her life – even as she enters her 90th year on this planet.
Issues of life and death are before us every day.  While the headlines tend to focus upon mass shootings and violence in the streets, other pages – think obituaries – remind us that many are the “non-headline” deaths every day.  However, I do wonder what the goal is when the obits of those whose birthdates precede mine are accompanied by their picture from high school.
In many of my home visits over the past couple months I have told the story of John 11.  Word comes to Jesus that a good friend of his, Lazarus, is deathly ill.  I imagine that his sisters, Mary and Martha, were expecting Jesus – who was likely a multi-day journey away – to drop everything and race there to help.  Instead, he waits two days before starting the trip, and even then, does not seem to hurry.  Jesus, in fact, does not arrive until four days after the funeral.  While it is easy for us to imagine Martha’s emotions as she greets Jesus with, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died,” I have a more difficult time understanding what Jesus was thinking.
That is, until we get to the end of the story when Jesus goes to the tomb and first says, Take away the stone,” and then follows it up with “Lazarus, come out.”  I don’t know about you, but I think a resurrection trumps a healing every day!  And then, just a couple weeks later, Jesus performs his greatest miraculous sign, raising himself from the grave on the third day after his crucifixion.
In the midst of the Lazarus story Jesus speaks these significant and familiar words, “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.” (John 11.25-26) I think what he was saying to Martha (and to us) is that human mortality is not really our problem … or, at least, not a problem that is any bigger than any of the others we face.  In other words, when he promises to take all our burdens upon himself, even our mortality becomes his issue – which in turn means that death does not have the final word for those who are alive in Christ.
Death’s scream is loud and painful.  Even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.  But our mortality is trumped by life immortal – the free gift given in Holy Baptism.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? … (and) if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6.3, 5)
Thus, I think it is good to be reminded of our own mortality.  We will not live forever.  We cannot save ourselves.  We are not able to raise ourselves from the grave.  And none of these issues are ours.  “Whoever believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live.”  The name Jesus means Savior.  And he is the resurrection and the life!
Have we trials (like illness, pain, or sorrow) and temptations (like saying, “Where are you, Lord, when I need you?”)?  Is there trouble (like our mortality) anywhere?  We should never be discouraged (even when, instead of providing healing, Jesus chooses to weep with us at the tomb) – take it to the Lord in prayer. … Jesus knows our every weakness … and trumps them all, including our mortality, with the incredible – but true – promise that “everyone who lives and believes in him shall never die.”