Tragedy touches a little family unit.
Martha and Mary nurse their brother as best they can. But – the sickness worsens. They keep him home, in bed, safe. They sit, sleepy and anxious through his fever filled nights. Lazarus passes away as the sun rises one beautiful morning.
Martha dutifully makes the burial arrangements…pushing her grief and heartbreak to the side. But a sadness settles over them both, threatening to engulf them. Mary spends her days quietly now, sitting alone.
Friends visit offering condolences, but no help. One particular group of friends are returning home when they see a familiar face approaching on the road. His entourage walks with him. “Quick – someone needs to run back to Mary and Martha. Tell them Jesus is on his way.” The group walks past, and they nod politely. Yet at a safe distance, they shake their heads. “What a tragedy. He’s too late. If only he had come a few days ago, Lazarus might not have died.”
At the sound of his name, Martha puts her cooking utensils down, and slips on her sandals. “Mary – I’m going out. I hear Jesus is in the area. Do you want to come?” Silence. Martha leaves, her pace slow at first but the frustration and the questions building in her mind cause her walk to become a run. “Why couldn’t he have been here days ago? We sent word to him that Lazarus was ill. Don’t we matter to him? Is his public ministry that important?” Before long she is staring Jesus in the face, venting the frustration that had been building for days. Yet it wasn’t just frustration. Because at the sight of her friend, anything seemed possible.
“If only you had been here when we were nursing Lazarus. We buried him days ago now. What can you do Jesus? Can you help Mary and I? Mary just seems to have shut down…she’s not talking to me…”
Jesus speaks. “Your brother will rise again.” Martha stops – and her face grimaces in confusion.
Mary has joined Martha now. The grief and the heartbreak on her face, and in her voice, touches Jesus deeply. “Mary…Martha…show me where you laid him,” he asks.
As they approach the tomb, the waves of grief swell and finally, Mary and Martha began to weep openly. Through their tears they see the face of their friend Jesus. He too is weeping.
Is there Hope and Life in the Midst of Death?
Easter is about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and the subsequent reports of his resurrection from the dead. Yet this year, 2020, Easter is also about a global pandemic which is claiming the lives of thousands of people every day. Does Easter bring any words of hope in the midst of death?
I think it does. And we see the hope of Easter playing out in this very timely story of Mary and Martha’s tragedy. The untimely death of a loved one. An event happening countless times each day today around the world.
Incredibly – there is hope – and life – in the midst of death.
What is the Hope?
In this incident we see three things:
First – Jesus enters into his friends grief.
If you want to know where God is in the midst of a global pandemic, then the answer is – he is in the room with every family who are wailing at the loss of the family member they could not comfort, hug or even say goodbye to.
“God, if you’re real, why didn’t you save my mum, dad, brother, sister, friend?” We give voice to Martha’s frustrated words. “If you’re there, God, then why didn’t you do something?”
God shares in this grief and this pain. Jesus weeps.
Second – Jesus doesn’t explain or excuse their suffering.
In Mary and Martha’s case, he does not patronise his grieving friends by attempting to give trite or easy answers. He doesn’t say things to avoid coming close to their grief. Quite the opposite. He speaks little and shares deeply in its reality.
Ultimately – no answer is going to satisfy us when we are railing against the death of those we love so dearly. It just isn’t. But maybe it’s not actually intellectual ideas we are actually looking for. Perhaps, rather, it’s an answer to the question, “Do we go on? Will I see them again? Will everything be alright?”
Third – Jesus himself is their hope in their tragedy.
Before Mary had arrived to join Martha with Jesus, Martha had been wrestling with the idea that one day Lazarus would rise again from the dead. And Jesus spoke to her in very simple terms. He said:
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
It’s not fancy sounding arguments that win the day. Its ultimately not even soothing words of comfort. It’s Jesus himself. Here with us. This little family could find their hope and their future in him. Why? Because he embodies life – he is the creator and sustainer of all life. What a miracle it is that people exist, living, feeling, thinking, wilful people like us. We’re not just biological machines, we are so much more. Jesus’ creative purpose is seen in and through each of us.
But on that particular day – Jesus wasn’t just the life, he was actually giving life to the brother they had lost. And so as Jesus speaks the words to the empty tomb, “Lazarus, come out,” these aren’t the words of a madman or the raw guilt of a friend who missed the funeral. These are the words of the one who gives life to every breathing thing on this planet, who creates and sustains each human being. And as Lazarus tentatively emerges from the tomb, and his sisters unwrap and embrace their brother again…we see nothing more amazing than Jesus doing what Jesus does. He gives and sustains lives.
Time passes, and it is the Jewish Passover. But this day, it is Jesus who is breathing his last. Scourged to within an inch of his life, nailed and crucified by Roman soldiers to finish the job. His body removed from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. And yet it’s here we see the truth that the earlier Lazarus incident had only hinted at.
Jesus had said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Now he shows it again.
His tomb is empty. Jesus is alive, and we do go on. For everyone who chooses to go with him, we will be alright.
Poem By Sue McGee
The tragedy struck on Friday
So many were traumatised
The cross, he warned, was coming.
But they couldn’t believe their eyes.
The Lord full of compassion
Who fed their hungry hearts
Who healed their sick and raised their dead
Was now being torn apart.
Tortured and mocked before them
Then nailed to a wooden cross
He carried the burden of all sins
But for them… all was lost.
How could it ever be “normal” again?
Where do they even begin?
After heartbreaking trauma on such a huge scale…
Could Hope find a way back in?
But God…in His infinite Mercy
Amidst their doubts and pain
Provided the ultimate miracle
On the third day He rose again!
Up from the grave of suffering
Out of the tomb of despair
Jesus appeared and Hope was restored
He defeated death then and there!
Now here we are in 2020
Covid-19 banging down our door
A thief, a destroyer, a menacing threat
Can we return to “normal” once more???
The whole world going through the same trauma,
Our eyes all see the same pain.
Together we unite our hearts and cry out,
God show Your Mercy again!!!
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus
He walks through this trauma too
He promises never to leave us
He is intimately with me and you!
Listen to His still small voice whisper
Let Him love you through uncertainty
His friendship is an anchor
He knows your every need.
In Him we will find our “New Normal”
Trust Him to show us the Way
He lives and He is Victorious
Thank You Jesus for Easter Day!
 Adapted from John 11.