a Homily for the Celebration of the Life of Fred Rouse
Text: John 11:21-27
One of those curious things we deal with as Christians is that even though we believe in the resurrected Christ, we still fear death. In our own lives and to our loved ones. Despite all assurances to the contrary, death is still powerful. It still controls us and changes us.
When we read this gospel pericope, we hear an interesting message about what Jesus understands as the property of life and death. He seems to argue that through belief, death leads to life. He says
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
That’s a pretty compelling statement, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to avoid death and live forever?
What is more interesting to me is that this takes place in a conversation with Martha. Remember that she is the one in a different story who works in the kitchen while her sister Mary is hanging out with Jesus in the living room. Now, this whole conversation begins with Martha asking Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead and moves to the understanding of the resurrection to this very compelling statement about what it means to be alive. They seem to be just talking but Jesus moves the conversation away from simple matters of life and death to what it means to really do life.
After this he asks Martha if she believes this. What is fascinating to me is her response:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah…”
His question seems to be about believing in Jesus; the way John believed in the University of Michigan; and that through death we get true life, but her response is more description of Jesus than affirmation of what He has just said.
I’m not picking on Martha, but pointing out that Jesus has just said to her that resurrection isn’t quite what she had in mind and neither is death. That life is something much more powerful than death, and through belief in what Jesus is up to in the world will mean victory over death. That it in belief, the conversation moves to giving up yourself so that we can truly live.
I’ll freely admit that this is pretty hard to swallow, particularly as we grieve and remember someone who has died “for real”. When Jesus talks like this, it may be easy for us to respond with “Yeah, Jesus is just talking about a metaphorical death.” Or else compartmentalize eternal life as something up there, beyond the clouds.
Fred was a man who lived. A bold life. A life of accomplishment. A life of conviction. A full life. It seems to me that this is what Jesus is talking about. Living a real life. That’s why he pushes Martha from resurrection on the last day and toward Jesus as resurrection. Because it isn’t about living and dying, but truly living.
This morning, as we have come to celebrate the life of Fred Rouse, we are reminded that for all of the grief and loss we might feel or love we have for those that grieve, this man that connects us all has truly lived. He is a man who believed, who died, and who lived. His first death brought him the life he was born to live. It brought family and friends. It brought meaningful work and incredible challenges.
Of all the things for which a person should be remembered: “he truly lived” needs to be at the top.
John Rouse truly lived.