What is there to look forward to in a new year? We’ll have to get used to writing “2016” instead of “2015,” but what else is truly new?
The older you get, the more your perspective shifts. Hopefully, you take less for granted. It used to be that when I would greet friends and ask how they were doing, they’d automatically reply, “Fine! And you?” But nowadays, there’s often a small pause before the answer. Then, with a sigh or a shrug of the shoulders, they’ll toss off a quip like, “Well, I got up this morning.” Or, “I’m still walking upright.” Or more biblically: “At least I’m clothed and in my right mind.”
It’s too easy to forget that having a healthy, functioning body is a blessing rather than an entitlement. I was reminded of this recently when I painfully pulled a muscle in my upper back. I wish I could say that I was doing something impressive at the time, like bench pressing my body weight. Or maybe bungee jumping over a pit of flaming swords.
But no. I was shampooing my hair. And for that act of daring I had to endure occasional stabs of pain for the remainder of the day.
This isn’t something my mother warned me about. Every kid hears “Look both ways before you cross the street,” or “Don’t run with scissors.” But no parents I know of have ever told their children, “Now you be careful washing your hair, sweetie. It’s dangerous.”
Little by little, the fact of my mortality is becoming increasingly real. When I have problems with my heart, I remember that my father and both his parents had similar issues, and wonder what the future will bring. When I experience “senior moments,” I remember that my grandmother and aunt both suffered dementia. My father was spared the worst of it, but you could see the cognitive decline beginning before he died. Will it eventually be my turn? Will I forget who my wife and children are, so that decades of relationship vanish like smoke?
Truth be told, for the most part, I like where I am right now in the story of my life. I wouldn’t go back to being in my twenties, or — heaven forbid! — being a teenager. Being older means that I know myself better (or at least am more comfortable in my delusions); I have a firmer sense of vocation; my wife and I are calmer, having learned how many things really aren’t worth fighting about.
But again, what will the future bring?
I know that I live a privileged life: I have a stable income, a comfortable home to live in, medical insurance, and plenty of social support. Compared to what others must endure, my aches and pains are nothing more than minor annoyances, at least for now.
But I don’t know if they’ll stay minor. I need practice in keeping things in their proper perspective — an eternal perspective — whatever happens.
Jesus has just arrived in Bethany. His friend Lazarus has been in the tomb four whole days. He is met by a distraught Martha, who says to him what she and her sister had surely been saying to each other while waiting for Jesus to come: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21, CEB).
Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again; Martha nods and gives what for her is the correct theological response, “Yes, I know, he’ll rise on the last day with all of God’s faithful.”
But Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vss. 25-26).
We don’t know exactly what Martha makes of Jesus’ cryptic statement; she can only confess that yes, she believes that Jesus is the Messiah. But soon, she has the unspeakable privilege of watching this Messiah do the unthinkable: he brings her beloved brother back from the dead.
Not later. Not on the last day. This day.
Do you believe this?
There’s more than a bit of Martha in me. Yes, I believe in the resurrection. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to life in a body that doesn’t need ibuprofen.
My habit, however, is to think of resurrection in one of two ways: with respect to Jesus, as a past event; with respect to me and my brothers and sisters, as a future event. And as Paul would insist, the fact of the former guarantees the promise of the latter.
But Paul also seems to think that with the resurrection of Jesus, a whole new day has dawned. Henceforth, life is no longer the same. Resurrection beckons from the future, but is also betokened by newness in the present, by joy in the midst of all that weighs us down — be it the challenge of living in an aging body or the crushing oppression of persecution and injustice.
I’m still standing, thank you. Maybe tomorrow, I won’t be. But today is the day to live in joyous hope, to live in the light of the tomorrow promised by a gracious God.