“The End of ‘The End’”
November 01, 2015
(All Saints Day)
By John Partridge
Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9 Revelation 21:1-6a John 11:32-44
How many of you ever went to the movies when great actors and actresses like John Wayne, Vincent Price, Greta Garbo, and Katherine Hepburn were playing in the big screen? What about the Saturday morning cartoons with Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny?
It doesn’t seem to happen as much lately, but for many years those of us who watched movies in the theater, or cartoons on Saturday morning knew when the show was over because, at the very end, there was a sign that came up on the screen that said, “The End.” It was common for the cowboy hero to ride off into the sunset at the end of the movie as the words “The End” scrolled onto the screen. It was so common, and such a part of the movie environment, that comedies often had a little fun with the words “The End” and the credits that followed.
And as odd as it may sound, that is a lot like how the story of our lives seems to go. With the exception of those folks whose lives end in terrible tragedies where death comes swiftly, many of our endings are very similar. As we near the end of our story, family and friends come to see us, to say their goodbyes, to share a few last memories, perhaps to make a final apology, and to say “I love you” one last time. This is the big scene in the story of our life and for those who are left behind, it is as if, after our passing, the book closes on our story, the last reel of our movie has played, and the words, “The End” play on the screen.
That’s life, right?
Or, as it has often been said in the movies, “It is the way of things.”
But it was not always so.
The story of Adam and Eve tell us that in the beginning, when the world was perfect and without sin, death was not a part of our creation. Death, suffering, and all of the discomfort, mourning and pain that they cause us, were not a part of God’s original creation but entered into the world because of the rebellion of human beings.
And so, for now, “It is the way of things.”
But the good news is that it will not always be so.
The prophet Isaiah knew that God would not allow death, suffering, pain, misery, discomfort, and mourning to continue forever for the people that he loved. Isaiah wrote these words (Isaiah 25:6-9):
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
9 In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
If you have been here at Trinity in recent months, you will remember that we have seen this imagery of a shroud several times. The covering of the face, or the head, was a symbol of death. And so when Isaiah says that God “will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,” he is proclaiming that God intends, at the appointed time, to destroy death itself.
And at that time, God himself will wipe away all of the tears that have been caused by death and the resulting suffering of the living that are left behind.
Isaiah knew that this was true even if he didn’t know how or when it would happen because he heard the words from God’s lips and also because he understood the nature of God.
But in John 11:32-44, we learn even more and the story becomes fuller, richer, and even more wonderful.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
When Jesus arrives, Mary cries out that if Jesus had only gotten there in time, Lazarus would not have died. Mary had great faith and trust in Jesus but it seems from her words that she believed that Jesus had great power to heal, but now that death had come, healing, no matter how great, would be of no use. Others in the crowd have the same opinion saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Surely if Jesus was such a great healer, could he not have healed whatever sickness that had afflicted Lazarus? And we know that the answer to that is “yes.” But Jesus wanted to reveal something about himself that they did not yet understand, something bigger, and much more important.
Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened and ignores the reminders that Lazarus’ body has surely started to rot in the Mediterranean heat and surely, after four days, has begun to smell really, really bad.
Lazarus’ book had already closed. His movie had already ended. “The End” had flashed on the movie screen of his life days before.
But they do as Jesus commands.
The tomb is opened. Jesus calls to Lazarus as if he was only in the next room.
And Lazarus, still wearing his grave clothes and his death shroud, walks out of his own grave.
Mary, and her sister Martha, and all their family and friends, and the entire world discovers that Jesus not only has the power to heal, but that he has power and authority over death itself.
For Jesus, death is not the end.
And knowing this, the words of God that were brought to us through Isaiah become even more real. God has said that, at the appointed time, he would destroy, or undo, death itself. At the appointed time, God will bring an end to “The End.”
And now, even though we still do not know exactly when, we do know a little more about how, and we certainly know who, Jesus.
The last piece of our knowledge falls into place through the revelation of the Apostle John who saw this in his great vision from God (Revelation 21:1-6a):
21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
At the end of time, the end of the age, and the end of all things, God, the creator of all that is, proclaims that he is not just the beginning, but also the end. Death is no longer the end. Jesus is the end. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Jesus, who has shown us that he has power over life and death, will bring an end to death forever. Those followers of Jesus Christ who have been lost to death will be restored to us and we will take up residence in God’s new creation.
No more will we fear death, because death itself will be dead.
That may very well be the greatest day in the history of days.
It will be the end of “The End.”
And the beginning of forever.