Back to the Present
It's been said that the two saddest words in the English language are the words "if only...". If only it hadn't been raining.
If only they had said that.
If only she'd stayed.
If only you'd been here.
We've probably all felt the longing that prompts those words at least once. It's a strange kind of nostalgia -- not just for a different past but for a different present. This is what prompts stories about time travel. We've all wondered what it might be like to go back and undo some things we did or do some things differently. What kind of present could we engineer if we could change the past?
Jesus heard these words. One time he went to visit his friends Mary and Martha. It was just after their brother Lazarus had died, and Martha -- busybody and strident and loudmouthed -- saw Jesus coming down the walk and ran to him with these words. "If only you'd been here, my brother wouldn't have died."
Mary -- the quiet one who liked to sit and listen -- came at Jesus with these same words, too. Perhaps they'd repeated these words to each other over the course of the past few days. Perhaps they'd each taken a turn saying, "If only Jesus had been here, he could have done something to help."
Jesus' response to Martha is familiar to anyone who has read the Bible or heard a few sermons. He says, "Your brother will live again."
Martha, being a good Jewish girl, believed that a resurrection would take place one day in the distant future. She says, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
But Jesus knows that dreams of a far-off future can be cold comfort to those who suffer in the present. Still, he also knows that the present can never be changed by going to the past.
He tells Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life."
Now think about this. Jesus didn't just come from heaven to earth. In a sense, he came from the future to the present. He didn't just come from God's presence to ours; he came from God's present to ours. In God's present, the resurrection has already occurred. The old is gone; the new is now. Rather than trying to bring an altered past to bear on our current situation, Jesus wants us to know that he's come to bring the future back to the present.
Jesus says the way to change the present is not to go back in time but to go forward in time and realize that -- in him -- the future is breaking into the now. The kingdom of God is at hand. Life has come to life. The Resurrection is among us.
So, the next time you're tempted to say, "If only...", force yourself to say, "If Jesus...".
If Jesus is who he says he is....
If Jesus is here....
If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever....
"If only" may be the saddest words in the English language. The two most hopeful words may be "If Jesus".