Graveside Service Homily
“Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe…” (Jn. 11:14-15)
Every death is a period at the end of a sentence. And because we are human, and we communicate with one another using words, it is natural to scan the sentence of someone’s life to see if it made sense. Was it meaningful? Everyone who knew Helen Green could speak many sentences about the value and meaning of her life, speaking to her kindness, her good sense of humor, and so on. For my part, I’ll always remember how when I was a young, scraggly college student, Grandma Green gave me one of Grandpa Green’s old sport coats. It was my only sport coat for many years until my wife finally retired it.
But here, Jesus said that He was glad that Lazarus had died before He had arrived so that the disciples might believe. Every death is an invitation not merely to believe that someone’s life made sense and had meaning to us, to our family, or to our local community – hers certainly did, but Jesus goes on to claim that He is the resurrection and the life. He says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Jesus does not only claim to offer Jewish men a meaningful existence. Jesus says, “whoever believes.” Not just Jews, not just men, but whoever believes in Him. So the question is not merely whether Helen Green’s life meant something to us; the question is will Helen Green’s life go on having meaning after all of us are gone? And not only that, but is this the final period, the last period? Or does Helen’s story go on?
A great deal hinges on what kind of story we are in. If you are reading a tragedy, then you expect the story to end in sadness and despair, but if you are reading a comedy, then you know that everything will turn out well in the end. There will probably even be a wedding. Jesus came into the world claiming that the story of history is a comedy. He claimed that through His death and resurrection everything sad, everything evil, everything broken was coming undone and that everything good, everything true, everything beautiful would be restored and put right in the end. Helen believed in Jesus, and she experienced the beginning of that eternal life in this life, and so her story is not finished. But if Jesus were standing here with us today, I suspect that He would say, Helen has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. And if Helen were standing here, I know she would agree.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.