The Undoing of Death

Happy Easter!

Needless to say, this has been a strange time in our world, and certainly in the church.  Most of us have never experienced an Easter Sunday when all the church buildings were closed!  And the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is still setting in -- 20,000 deaths and counting, growing unemployment, saying goodbye to important events and rites of passage.  The theological questions are right under the surface:  “Where is the new life God promised at Easter?”  “Where is God at all?”

This Easter Sunday, we focused on John’s account of Jesus and Lazarus.  (I’d encourage you to read it for yourself, as we’re just looking at a couple of key points.)  Jesus was friends with Lazarus, and he apparently knew that Lazarus was ill.  And yet he delayed his visit.  Sure enough, Mary and Martha seem justifiably upset when he arrives after Lazarus has died.  They even suggest blame: “If you had been here…”  But even then, they were what we’d call “believers.”  There is room in one’s discipleship with Jesus for these times of confusion, anger, and of course doubt.  

The fact of the matter is that Jesus is also grieved.  In the shortest verse of the Bible, John tells us: “Jesus wept.”  And the Greek suggests that his emotions were more than mere sadness, but also included anger.  This is how God feels about our experience of death and the brokenness of the world.  

The first thing Jesus does is pray.  His prayer places their experience of loss in the context of redeeming purpose: “that they may believe you sent me.”  Jesus’ prayer doesn’t deny their grief, but directs it toward God.  This story of death and life highlights the fact that we’re living “between the times” of Jesus’ victory over death and God’s final redemption.

We’re still living in that time, of course, which is so aptly illustrated by this pandemic.  And it is exactly why we should hear Jesus’ words to Lazarus’s as words to us:

“Take off the grave clothes.”  

Even a miracle like raising Lazarus from death was only a preview of Jesus’ final victory over death.  Jesus wasn’t content to just resuscitate one man -- he was motivated to bring resurrection to all people.  What’s more, God is not content to let even our present suffering pass by in vain.  God’s intention is that all of life be redeemed when God’s Kingdom is fulfilled.  C.S. Lewis said it best:

“This is what mortals misunderstand.  They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”  (A Grief Observed)

For reflection:
  • Is it easy or challenging for you to think about God knowingly letting Lazarus die so that people might believe in Jesus?
  • Is it easy or challenging to consider that God is grieved and angered by suffering, but also is willing to allow it for purposes that are beyond us?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus wept alongside his friends?

Happy Easter!

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