We are knocking at the Holy Week door today. Tomorrow night we will have our Passion Sunday/Palm Sunday service with two more on Sunday. It is here.
The Morning Prayer Gospel was from John, the Lazarus story. There is a sort of "real time" aspect to all this now, as the liturgical days reflect the last week of Jesus' life (except of course He manages to conquer death!). In the Fourth Gospel, the Lazarus event is connected to the decision to kill Jesus (they plot to kill Lazarus again as well). So it is an excellent choice for the weekend before Holy Week.
There is a great deal of material there, much of it resonant with our lives. "Let's go die with Him!" Thomas courageously announces when the disciples point out to Jesus the danger of returning to the environs of Jerusalem. Sadly, like me (and you?) big talk does not produce big walk. Thomas and most everyone else will flee and hide when the moment of truth arrives. There is some solace in knowing I am not alone on the "failure train" and that even those who knew Him best were unfaithful. But only some solace. In the end, "being like everyone else" when everyone else is rotten is still rotten....
The reaction of Martha when Jesus arrives sounds (possibly) accusatory. "If you had been here my brother would not have died..." Certainly sounds similar to the words so many have uttered with me when they are in similar situations of loss. There is a sense that God could never have allowed such tragedy, and there is a deep sense of His distance. Yet, Martha adds a strong sense of trust, "yet even now I know God will give you whatever you ask." Such profound faith in the midst of profound loss. It is a reminder that we have to do prep work for such times, if you are not connected before hand, personal tragedy cannot, will not, magically generate a sense of spiritual peace and depth.
Martha believes in the resurrection on the last day. But Jesus challenges her understanding when He says, "I am the resurrection and the life." Those are pretty meaty words to be saying to a grieving sister, standing at the visitation after a funeral. Who would dare say such a thing? It is easy to forget the human reality....
In our times it is common to speak about death as something God orders. "He takes you when He is ready" people say. Or "God needed your momma/daddy/child/etc in heaven so He took them." Death is considered part of God's plan in this scenario. A convenient way to make room for the next generation. However, Jesus' response seems counter to that view of God. Ponder with me:
Does Jesus tell Martha, "he is with God now"? Nope!
Does Jesus tell her, "he is in a better place"? Nope!
Does Jesus tell her anything which sounds like what we hear people talk about at funerals?
Jesus seems to think death is bad. It makes him angry (or sad--the Greek is not crystal clear). In fact, on several occasions Jesus brings back the dead. I think, Jesus did not like death. I think, God does not like death. I think (based on Paul) death came into the world through sin. I think God does not like sin either...
My guess is Jesus did not like death because God is a God of life and living. Jesus viewed death as an enemy (death is called the last enemy, right?). So Jesus brings the dead to life in part because He can, and He hates death. I think death is the norm in this fallen world because it is fallen. God's plan is to REDEEM the dead and raise them to life. Death bad, Life good!
Next week we celebrate the holy days when God's solution to sin and death is unveiled. Jesus, God become man, will die. Death cannot hold Him (imagine death is a dragon and Jesus gets swallowed and then proceeds to kill the dragon from inside).
SO do not fear death, Jesus wins.
For now, we mourn those we have lost, but we know God will take them back. God, in Jesus, is a victor over death. Not sure what matters more than that!