We watched the television production of Jesus Christ Superstar the other night. This was an outstanding production with all of the elements of the original stage play and motion picture in place. The story was familiar, compelling and acted with great talent for all of us. As always, I was deeply moved by the way that Jesus did his ministry, healing and comforting while the establishment looked on with dismay. The black-clad Pharisees and Sadducees surrounded him in the early parts of the story and eventually took him into custody and delivered him to Pilate who condemned him. John Legend played Jesus with great talent and Alice Cooper was a harsh Herod. At the end of the story, Jesus is hung on a cross and disappears through a cross-shaped hole in the scenery and just disappears. We all know what happened next.
The story of the resurrection is a remarkable one. We have nothing else like it in our memory or in our lives. We know very well that death is at the end of all of our lives. We go through our own story knowing that we at the end must leave all that we have on this earth. Our fate is certainly in the hands of our loving God. Jesus’ resurrection is a great sign to us that the God who made us will not let us go. We have resurrection to look forward to after our deaths.
I have done a number of funerals in my ministry. All of them are somber with families in mourning and friends surrounding them. I always try to say something about the person who has died and move on to the story of Jesus’ resurrection as our eternal hope. It isn’t always easy. I remember one man who had been a mean alcoholic who had left behind a family that more or less detested him. They all sat in a knot on one side of the church during the funeral. I could see the anger in their eyes. I wanted somehow to reconcile them to the man who had died, but it was not something that I was going to be able to do in the course of one religious service. I did what I could to assure them of God’s love for him and for them and to assure them that what had happened was all over and that they could get on with their lives even with their dark memories, and that if they desired, all could be well. Resurrection wasn’t what any of them were looking forward to at that moment. They were happy that he was gone.
But that isn’t the case with most of us. Resurrection is a happy thought in the middle of death. It gives a hint of what our God has in store for us for eternity: joy in our maker’s presence forever. I have also had a few moments when that was emphasized to me eloquently. There was one woman who was close to death in the hospital when I visited. Her family was around her and as she took her last breath, she looked up and said, Oh, it is so beautiful! I knew that she had seen something wonderful in that moment. I believed that it was a glimpse of heaven.
If I had one small criticism of Jesus Christ, Superstar, it would have been that there was no resurrection portrayed. I would have loved it if they had included that wonderful moment from John’s gospel when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it empty. She sees Jesus and thinks that he is the gardener and asks him where they have put Jesus’ body. He turns and says to her: Mary! and all of a sudden with that word of his, she knows that it this man is her risen Lord. That for me is probably the most significant moment in all of scripture. Mary knows that the resurrection has happened, and it is right in front of her.
I think that the woman in the hospital saw something like that. I hope that is the vision that we all will see with our last breath. Spending eternity with those whom we love in the presence of our God is a gift beyond anything that we could ever desire. That is what resurrection means for all of us.