"Live Everlasting not Living Forever"
Tim Carson
Rocheport Bluegrass Sabbath - 
 Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
In Partnership with the Historic
Rocheport Christian Church • Rocheport, Missouri
Bluegrass Sabbath
February 7, 2015
 
Scripture Lesson
John 12:23-26
 
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
 
Message
Life Everlasting not Living Forever
Tim Carson
 
Some children’s books are more for adults than their original audience. Take Alice in Wonderland, for instance. Or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Children may enjoy them, but adults will savor the questions, truth-telling or humor tailored for those who have lived a while.
 
To my daughter’s amazement, I have just read, for the first time, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (1975). My reading came as the result of the 40th anniversary of its publication. And my daughter seized the opportunity to inform me how she had read it long ago in elementary school. Silly father.
 
However sure I am that I would have enjoyed it as a child, I am even more certain I would not have picked up its deeper elements. For like The Little Prince or A Wrinkle in Time, the deeper questions show themselves later after a well-examined life. 
 
Tuck Everlasting is the story of an unusual family, the Tucks, who discover a spring that gives a magical power to live forever. They all drink of it and are frozen at their present ages forever. As the rest of the world ages, they do not. They are impervious to the ravages of time. To avoid persecution from those who age while they do not, those who accuse them of being witches or sorcerers or worse, they stay on the move.
 
The book explores how the Tuck family experiences living forever. Is it a blessing or a curse? And why do they end up hiding the spring? Is it to protect others from enduring their same fate? In one powerful scene, Tuck, the family patriarch, tries to share with the little girl, Winifred, the difference between the natural eternity of the world and the not-so-natural condition of their living forever. As they float out on a pond in a rowboat, Tuck says:
 
“It’s a wheel, Winnie. Everything’s a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it is… But this rowboat now, it’s stuck. If we didn’t move it out ourselves, it would stay here forever, trying to get loose, but stuck. That’s what us Tucks are, Winnie. Stuck so we can’t move on. We ain’t part of the wheel no more. Dropped off, Winnie. Left behind. And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing … you can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.”
 
Now, you see why this is not just a children’s book, though it is that. The book wrestles with question: “If you could live forever and no one else could, would that be a blessing or a curse?” The answer, as much as the book gives us one, is: It is not a blessing to be an immortal in this life. This life is meant to be a part of the turning wheel. Being a part of the wheel is the thing.
 
You catch a glimpse of this same question and answer within a certain class of fiction today, around the genres of heroic immortals, vampires, and even the walking dead – zombies. In all of these fictions, that state of being is presented as a remarkable curse to bear – to go on living without dying. And strangely, strangely, there is a connection between Tuck Everlasting and its questions and the perspective of the New Testament toward life, death and eternal life.
 
Let’s turn to the Gospel of John and begin just after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Remember that Lazarus was very ill. Jesus did not come when they sent for him, and by the time he finally did arrive, Lazarus was long dead – Mary and Martha both told him if only he would have been more prompt, this could have been avoided. Then comes the beautiful scene of Jesus weeping before the tomb and ordering that Lazarus come out and be unbound. The power of the scene for John is that of foreshadowing; it harkens forward to Jesus’ own resurrection. It also speaks to the power of Christ over the bonds of oppression and death for all of us.
 
But here is something to think about. Lazarus will still need to die, just not at the moment. Everyone eventually dies, even the one Jesus rose from the dead. Lazarus did not become an immortal like Tuck Everlasting; that would have been an everlasting sentence, even a curse. No, when Jesus said he was the resurrection and the life he meant something else. And that leads us to the scene following the raising of Lazarus.
 
Jesus has entered Jerusalem and is headed toward the ultimate offering of his life that he might be glorified, and he says to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
 
The truth is a simple but profound one: the goal is not to live as long as possible to maintain our present condition. Rather, the wheel must turn; the seed must die in order for new birth to emerge. Lazarus, Jesus, you and me, we must all cycle in and out of the wheel of life and not remain here.
 
The goal is not to drink of the waters of immortality and live in this life forever like the Tuck family. The goal is one of transformation: finally to let go of everything in order to become more than those attachments, for the seed to die, so that it can bear new fruit.
 
Do you remember that scene in John’s Gospel when Mary is in the garden tomb, wanting to anoint the body of Jesus, and when she finds an empty tomb, she runs into one she sees, as a gardener through her veil of tears? (John 20). When he finally addresses her by name – Mary – she realizes that it is the Risen One, and she instinctively reaches out to touch him. It is then that he tells her, “Do not hold me.” He has yet to ascend, to make the final transition.
 
Think about those powerful words spoken at that critical intersection: Do not hold me. We could also say Do not grasp for me, Do not hold on to me, Do not try to keep me here, Do not attach to me
 
Doesn’t the Risen One say those words because of our natural inclination to do that, to grasp, to hold, to keep for ourselves?
 
His command leads us against our grain and asks us to let go and surrender. That is hard to do with one we love so much. But it is even harder, I think, to do with our own lives. We must let go of grasping after our own life, holding it where it is. We are not called to live forever, keeping everything the same, time frozen in place. If we drink from a spring, it will not be the spring that allows us to live forever. It will be the living water of the Samaritan woman (John 4), the waters that quench our thirst and bubble up as an inner spring of eternal life.
 
We know what Tuck Everlasting did, namely, that our goal should not be to grasp after this life, as though it can continue indefinitely. That would be a life sentence, even a curse to bear. The goal is to drink so of the eternity of God that we may have the faith to let go and not grasp, let go and not hold, to turn with the wheel of life until our turning is over. Unless the grain of wheat falls and dies, it cannot change and be reborn.
 
The point of life is not to live forever, to grasp, to hoard, to protect every available minute. The point of life is to fulfill this turning of the wheel so that we may get off of it, to drink so deeply from the spring of God that we become one with the God, who gives life in the first place. Then when it’s time to go, our heart will truly be at peace.
 
Thanks be to God. Amen.
 
 

 

Last Published: February 9, 2015 9:15 PM