Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Surely He Has Borne Our Grief

This week's scripture is John 11: 1-44.

This week's story of the raising of Lazarus is one of my very favorite stories out of Jesus' life and teaching (rating right up there for me with the Woman at the Well, th Prodigal Sons, and Jesus' Healing the Leper). I'll tell you more about why on Sunday; but for right now I'd like to focus on the issue of grief.

It is amazing that in a time and culture in which women were kept silent and submissive, both Martha and Mary felt free to speak their mind to Jesus. One after the other they come up to him and the first words they say are, "If you'd been here, our brother wouldn't have died." And Jesus listens. If we're not careful...if we read this story into our own culture...we'll miss just how much this says about Jesus' attitude toward women and his relationship with these two women in particular.

It also tells us something about Jesus' acceptance of the wide variety of feelings that can make up our grief and our response to the tragic events in our lives. Sadness, rage, disbelief, paralysis...any and all of these can be part of our human response. Sometimes we aim those emotions at others. When I worked as a chaplain on a Surgical Emergency Unit we were warned that when we were with the doctor who told the family of a loved one's death to start out further than arms reach away....we could move closer later if we wanted to. Why? Because some people's instant, gut reaction was to physically strike out at the bearers of this news. And a chaplain wearing a clerical collar made as good a target as any for their anger at God over their loss. The phrase "driven to my knees" is a description of that awful agony that hammers us to the floor in a cry of anguish. The humanity of this story, the willingness of Jesus to walk into the middle of it and listen and be truly present to Mary and Martha speaks volumes about how God feels about us at the times of our deepest pain.

But Jesus doesn't just stand back detached. Both verse 33 and 38 talk about Jesus being "deeply moved." The Greek phrase here has bothered translators and commentators alike for centuries because it translates roughly to 'upset and angry.' The Revised English Bible translates verse 33 as "he was moved with indignation and deeply distressed." The New Revised Standard Version says, "he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved." Jesus felt his own strong emotions as well as having empathy for his friends. We've all seen the news clips of grieving mourners in Palistine. Can we imagine Jesus being so "touched with the feeling of our infirmitities" (Hebrews 4: 15) that he is part of such a grieving throng as they approach the tomb where Lazarus is.

Even before He called Lazarus out of his tomb, raising him from the dead, Jesus had entered fully into the life of Lazarus' sisters. What an incredible love it is that does this. It is a love that embraces us in our pain; calls us from death into life; and gives us the job of being the Body of Christ today in the world.

I hope you'll be there Sunday so we can talk about this some more.


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