I want everyone to close their eyes. Now, I want you to picture Jesus. Does everyone have a picture of Jesus? Ok, now I want to take one step back from Jesus and picture the scene or setting he is in. Imagine those things around him. When you have Jesus in his scene, go ahead and open your eyes. I’m not going to ask you what Jesus looked like, I’m more concerned about the scene you placed him in. Who would like to share?
Now, did anyone picture him in a cemetery? I know I wouldn’t have, I usually picture him teaching. I know when we usually think of graves and tombs with Jesus, we think of the empty tomb on Easter morning. And typically Jesus isn’t even in that scene. Of all the Easter bulletins we looked at that had the stone rolled away from the tomb, Jesus isn’t around. We don’t picture the two together. But that is exactly where John puts him this morning: Right in the middle of a cemetery. But based upon who Jesus says he is, we shouldn’t be surprised that he is found among the tombstones and crypts. He is the resurrection and the life. And we can’t have a resurrection with having a death. We can’t have new life in Christ unless the old one has been buried and put away.
But to understand what kind of new life Jesus just might be calling us to in the resurrection, I found it really hard to start in the graveyard. I needed to step back from that scene and move to the edge of tombs and dry bones and peer in with those who were also looking into the graveyard. Those who are dying have a totally different perspective on life than those who are healthy and active. Bronnie Ware recently published an article titled, “Nurse Reveals Top 5 Regrets People Make on their Deathbeds.” As one of the people that was close to those who were in their last few weeks of life, Ware had the privilege of hearing what people felt were their biggest regrets they had in life. I think that looking at these deathbed regrets in light of the one who is the resurrection and the life, we can turn to Christ and experience life as God intended from the beginning. Because life with the one who is life and gives life is a life without regrets.
The most common regret that Ware heard from her patients was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Ware shares that when people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly over it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
Now from a Christian perspective, I’d want to use the word ‘calling’ instead of ‘dreams.’ Each and every one of us is created uniquely in the image of God with different gifts and talents to live a full life. And Frederick Buechner says that the calling you receive from God is first and foremost what you need to do. You were created for it. There is a deep hunger to do it and live it out. And second, the calling is to something the world needs to have done. He sums it up as “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Anything else that you pursue, including the expectations placed upon you from yourself, family, or the world, bounds you and keeps you from experiencing the life you were created to live.
Men, pay special attention to this second item of regret that Ware shares. She said she heard it from each and every one of her male patients. A few of the lady folks said it too, but every man said it. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. They regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. Their time was lost to the office or factory at the expense of their families. I think this regret grows out of the fact that God created us to be in relationship with him and each other. American society seems to think we were created to be machines, created to be cogs on the wheels of productivity and growth of the economy. But I’ve never heard someone say, “I wish I’d of spent more time at the office” on their death beds.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should quit their jobs and stay at home, but I am saying we need to weigh the costs of giving up our lives to our jobs. Our families are a gift from God, and I also believe that our jobs are a gift from God. But when placed on the scales of importance, the building and maintaining the relationships in the family should far outweigh the building of a job legacy. Our relationship with God should even far outweigh our relationship with our family and it is when these three things get out of whack, dysfunction and regret rule the day.
Third regret, “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. And Ware adds, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming in those relationships. Many of the illness that the people were suffering from on their deathbeds were related to the bitterness and resentment they carried because they didn’t let others know how they felt.
It becomes about reconciliation. It is about forgiveness. It is about love. When we confront our feelings and the hurt by either confronting those who hurt us or ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt, it raises the relationship to a whole new healthier level. Either that or it releases those unhealthy relationships from our lives. It’s why God sent Jesus in the first place, into the graveyards of our world, and confronted the brokenness of our sin and separation, to show God’s love and rebuild and restore relationships. Do you remember the Lord’s Prayer sermon skit that Amy and Miller did for us awhile back, and especially when they did, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?” Amy was angry with her friend and that anger and the thoughts of revenge were eating her up. When she released that anger by forgiving her friend, Amy was made new, made alive again. She could now move forward in her relationship with her friend beyond being stuck in anger. Anger leads to death of relationships, forgiveness frees those relationships.
Number four: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” So many of these people became so caught up in their own lives that they let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved. People do want to get their financial affairs in order, but in the end, many of the people Ware worked with were even too ill to even do that. All that mattered in the final weeks were love and relationships.
Do we want to wait until the end to remember a dear friend? It’s about the relationships in our lives that God has given us. I don’t know about you, but I’m not the best in keeping in touch with my friends, but Jesus teaches that friendship is at the heart of the relationship he wants to have with us. And I don’t want to forget about that. Later in John, Jesus gives his new commandment, that his disciples love one another as he has loved them. Why? Because no one has experienced love greater than someone who has laid down his life for his friends, and now he calls us his friends.
The last one: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Ware was surprised at how common this one was. It helped her realize that happiness can be a choice in life. When people were stuck in old patterns and habits, the ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions and physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. Ware says that “When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.” Now, there is temporary happiness that comes when the circumstances are just right, when things are pleasant and we are free of troubles. And we know this kind of happiness never lasts when things change.
Then there is happiness that comes from God, it lasts, and it brings about an inner peace regardless of the circumstances. It’s not based totally on what happens around us, but because of the one who walks with us. The happiness through Jesus is a contentment that fills the soul, even if the eyes are filled with tears and is not based on success or failure, wealth or poverty, fame or obscurity.
Friends, we all stand on the edge of the graveyard looking in at Jesus. We claim from the story of Lazarus the power of Jesus to call us out from the things that bind us and will bury us, all the fears, the pains, the griefs, the worries, and the pressures. He has the power over death and with that power, the gift of new life free of regrets. And he offers that gift to each and every one of us. Be free to live. Amen.