Pastor Viewpoint: Keeping the faith
The morning after the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, my sports crazy oldest son texted me. In addition to a bad cold and several, unappealing approaching tests, he said he felt "dead inside." He had lost his zest for everything he was doing. Nothing felt like it really mattered. I know—what a ridiculous over-reaction—but if you have any super fans in your life, you know that they invest themselves in games to the point of it affecting them emotionally and physically. I told my son it sounded like he was grieving — and that, since nobody had actually died, and the Vikings would survive to play and win/lose again in the future, he needed to get on with the business of living.
As virtually everyone knows, Minnesota is perpetually a much-beleaguered team with a history of getting their fans excited, only to crush them on the last play of the game with some unbelievable mistake. That's why the Minneapolis Miracle, the week before the NFC championship game, was so exciting. Things like that never seem to happen to the Vikings! This miracle made it seem like everything would be different from there on out! For one whole week, the impossible seemed possible — the Vikings were going to a Super Bowl — in Minnesota! Everyone west of the St. Croix just knew it was going to finally happen!
As I thought about this after the loss, another Biblical story came to mind, though, and the parallels are worth considering. Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus were good friends of Jesus. He had dined at their home. They knew the long-awaited Messiah and against all odds, he was going to change everything — just like some no-name, third-string, back-up quarterback was finding a way to turn every life-long doubter into a believer. But then the unthinkable happened — Lazarus became very ill. His sisters sent word that Jesus should come immediately. But Jesus dawdled and Lazarus died. He just died. THAT wasn't supposed to happen. He was Jesus' friend!
His grieving, numb sisters felt dead inside after losing their only brother. Jesus eventually arrived, grief-stricken himself and much too late to do anything for Lazarus, who had been in his tomb for four days. Mary and Martha took all their bottled up grief and let Jesus have it with both barrels. "If you would have been here our brother would not have died!" The disappointment in the text is palpable, you can almost hear it, "If you would have even bothered to show up when we needed you...we believed in you and you let us down!" (Vikings fans were even more vocal about their disappointment). So Jesus asked to be taken to the tomb and after they had rolled the stone away, he commanded him, "Lazarus, come out!" And Lazarus did! It was so simple, so unexpected, so exhilarating! It was a true Middle Eastern Miracle! Things like this never happened. This changed everything — a dead person was alive again! The hearts of all of those who loved Lazarus filled with joy and hope and it felt like the world was finally set on the right course. Things were surely going to be different now.
That exhilarating feeling lasted for awhile. But guess what? If you are a Vikings fan, you can almost guess the ending to this story. After all the drama, the hope, the incredible miracle, and the overwhelming faith response, life remained difficult, dangerous and frequently disappointing. People still died. Lazarus himself was going to die again. One might almost believe that the miracle of his resurrection was wasted, like it was for nothing. After all, it wasn't that long afterward that Jesus himself would end up beaten, mocked and crucified (wow, the Viking analogy there is a little too real). He looked nothing like the winner, the miracle-worker, that he had been such a short time before.
And this time, for those whom had believed so deeply in Jesus, the grief was enormous. This time...this time...this time...everybody knew that it was the last straw. Jesus was dead. Hope was dead. The Savior of the world had been crucified. He was nothing. Humanity had been duped once again. That's what it must have felt like.
In reality, though, it was not the last word. Three days after his crucifixion, Jesus would rise from the dead and with that one action, death was put on notice. Suffering would not last forever. Death would not get the last word. In the lowest moments of our lives, when it feels like there isn't going to be a tomorrow and we feel dead inside and like nothing matters, Jesus' resurrection stands as the symbol of hope. The miracle happened, but God's kingdom still isn't fully realized. In spite of that, we must remain people of faith. We will mourn our pain and our losses because we are only human. Then we will get up and face another day because we know that Jesus calls us forward to live by faith into a reality and a promise that is going to be so sweet when it finally happens, that it will surpass all expectations. That is why I'm a Christian. Incidentally, that is also why I'm a Minnesota Vikings fan. Skol.