Weekly Reflection (NEW!)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
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Please read John 11.
My mother loves to tell this story. When I was about two going on three, my family had a pet parakeet. I don’t remember his name. It was probably something like Petey. These birds are not too hardy, and one day the bird died. My mother gave me the sad news. I thought for a moment and asked her, “Did you poke him with a stick?” I wanted Mom to be sure that the bird was really dead. I wanted to know for certain. I did not want to accept his fate. I did not want to lose control.
Over the past two years the dogs that my wife and I have had since we were first married have died. The first one that died was in kidney failure and she had starting having seizures. The other dog had lung cancer. Each time we had to make the painful and difficult decision to have the dog euthanized. Each time as the veterinarian prepared the injection there was a part of me that wanted to yell, “Stop! We haven’t done enough.” We had though. We had done everything we could, but I still wanted to have the last word or deed, not death.
Imagine how Martha and Mary must have felt as their brother, Lazarus, lay dying from illness. This brother who had been their playmate, their friend, and their provider was dying. They would be all alone in the world without him. At that time, women had no legal rights. Their status in society was completely dependent on the men in their lives. Without Lazarus they would become homeless and poor.
They must have lovingly cared for him doing everything they could to cure him and to ease his suffering. There must have been long watches by the bedside as they each took their turns caring for his every need as he slipped away from them. The despair must have been unbearable. The anger must have been consuming. Where was Jesus? The message had been sent out days ago. If Jesus would only get here in time, everything would be made well.
Jesus doesn’t get there in time. Mary and Martha pray and fight and rail against death. They do everything right, but it cannot be stopped. They watch him slowly drift out of the realm of the living, and Jesus doesn’t come. Four days go by and Jesus doesn’t come. They have the funeral and their beloved Lazarus is sealed in the tomb. They could not control death. They could not control Jesus.
Jesus does come, and the first thing out of both women’s mouths to him is, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The anger and hopelessness are thinly veiled. Jesus hears this from Martha and looks her in the eye saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” What does Martha see in the eyes of Jesus? What does she hear in his voice? She sees love and hope. She hears the Word of God creating faith in her very soul. She confesses, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
Jesus goes to the tomb and weeps. He grieves over the loss of one so precious. He grieves over the pain and anguish he sees around him. Death will not have the last word. Death can be controlled. Death will lose its sting. Emmanuel! God is with us! Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus! Come out!” The dead man comes out of death and into life. Despair is replaced with hope. Grieving is replaced with rejoicing. God in Christ conquers death and the grave.
Dan Headrick, our Treasurer at the Lutheran University, died suddenly a week ago today from heart failure. It was such a shock. “No, but wait…” I thought, “this cannot be. I just saw him. I didn’t get to say good-bye. What happened? What could have been done differently?” Death is still no respecter of feelings or circumstances. It hits us hard. We are not in control. But we give thanks to God because of Emmanuel—God is with us. Death does not have the last word. God in Christ has the last word and that word is “Life!” “Come out!” Jesus cries out to each of us, “Death has no power over you!”
Pray in the midst of despair and loss for the assurance of God’s love and life in Christ for you and for all.