Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dying and Rising

Mother's Day is going to be interesting for our family this year. My parents are 85 and 86 years old. My mom's birthday is always right around mother's day so we celebrate both occasions in one gathering, usually taking Mom and Dad somewhere nice for dinner. Last year, on her 85th birthday, we took her to Green Pasture's restaurant in Austin - one of her favorite places. The food is good, the setting is lovely, and there aren't many restaurants that boast of white peacocks roaming the property. But this year Mom and Dad want to have all their kids over on Mother's Day for a conversation. They want to talk to us about what shape their finances are in, the possibility of them needing assisted living in the future, their funeral plans. Over the years they have spoken with each of us about some of these subjects, but they figure it's a good idea to tell all of us, at the same time, what their plans are and what they want us to do in the event of 'this' or 'that' happening. That way there won't be any confusion or controversy (we hope). As a pastor I've helped lots of people talk about their funeral plans; I've been with families as they discussed options for long-term care. These things are a normal part of life in my line of work. But contemplating the possibility of my own parents living in a nursing home, thinking about the day when my Mom and Dad will die, jars me out of "ordinary business" and puts me face to face with mortality. We will all die; everyone knows this. But there's a tremendous difference between theoretically knowing you will die and knowing it experientially. At 53 (almost) I'm the youngest of my family - siblings, parents, spouse. Death stands a lot closer now than it did 10 or 20 years ago. This is the season of death in the Church. Last Sunday we contemplated Lazarus who died because Jesus didn't respond quickly when Mary and Martha sent word that their brother was ill. By the time Jesus arrived his friend had been dead for four days. "If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died" the sisters said to Jesus reproachfully. We don't want our loved ones to die, to leave us and go... wherever the dead go. We don't want to die, to give way to oblivion, to personal extinction. Next week is Holy Week. Beginning on Palm/Passion Sunday and continuing through Good Friday we will remember Jesus' suffering and death. Like Lazarus, his body will be placed in a cave and secured with a large stone. His friends will grieve; his mother will weep. For our part, we will ponder again this puzzling event - the execution of the Son of God. What sort of God dies? How able is a God who dies? Can we depend on this God? When the time comes that my mother and father die I do not expect to see them again in this life. After they are buried I might visit their graves, place flowers in memory of them, look at their pictures, but I will not sit next to them, bodily, and visit with them any more. Death doesn't allow for that. And yet Jesus called Lazarus out of death back into life. Dead four days he got up and emerged from the grave. A few weeks later he was with Mary, Martha and Jesus at supper. Jesus, too, rose from the dead - complete with a new body and eternal life. He went to see his friends, showed them his hands and his side, reminded them how they should live as his followers. As we in the Church face the reality of death this next week we also confess our faith in eternal life. We assert that death is not the end, that real and powerful as death is, resurrection life is still more powerful. Our claims defy logic, they contradict what we have experienced - that the dead stay that way. Life everlasting... life in God's kingdom... can we really conceive of that? I wonder if we'll talk about that part of it when we get together on Mother's Day. Undoubtedly Mom and Dad will mention their wishes regarding financial matters, funeral services, disposal of their property. But will anyone mention the hope we have of living forever in God's dominion? Probably not. But in this season of death we also contemplate life. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; God raised Jesus from the dead. Improbable as it seems, there is more awaiting us than hole in the ground. God chooses life over death. We will die, it's true. But when Jesus calls, we will rise from death to live as sisters and brothers - beloved children of God - forevermore. Pastor Kris

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