It’s time for my Sunday Reflection, in which I post some of my thoughts on almost any issue connected to writing, faith or life in general.
For 18 years I’ve been preaching with some regularity at a small country church in Illinois, about 45 minutes from St. Louis. The congregation is small, but close, and this past week one of the regular attenders died. He and his wife started coming several years ago, but at first, they only came on Sundays when his wife was playing the piano. Eventually, they started coming every week, whether it was her week to play piano or not.
As I prepared to preach yesterday, I decided I needed to set aside the sermon I’d been planning on giving and put together something that would speak more directly to the situation. In the end, I decided on John 11:17-27. John 11:1-44 is the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. Verses 17-27 recount Martha’s conversation with Jesus when he arrives after Lazarus’ death, and of course, the best known part is the “I am” saying of Jesus in 25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life…”
What struck me as I prepared to speak on this passage, though, was Martha’s initial exchange with Jesus in 21-24. After the implicit rebuke of Martha’s words to Jesus, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died,” she goes on to plead that even now, God would do what Jesus wanted. Jesus assures her that her brother will rise again, and Martha, assuming that Jesus is speaking of the Last Day, waves this off as an unimportant fact.
The striking thing, here, is how Martha is so much like us when we grieve. We wonder where God is, why He doesn’t intervene, even as Martha suggests that Jesus should have been there. Of course, we, like Martha, ignore the fact that we are and will be, mortal. Even if we get our prayer, and life is extended in ourselves or the one we love, death comes for all. Lazarus came back to life, but he had one day to die again. His resurrection, though dramatic, was not a permanent fix for his problem.
And in that light, we see the mistake of making light of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. That is a permanent fix. Like Martha, we obsess too much over death and think too little about the second death, and about the more important issue of the final resurrection. It is understandable, of course, as those things we are facing right now feel much more immediate, and as the loss of those we love is a heavy burden to bear. But, in the end, the hope of resurrection unto life for those we love does provide solace now, even when we must say goodbye for a time.