Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead (John 11:1-45)
“‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:22 and 11:32)
Our Lenten journey now takes us to the tomb of Lazarus amid the tears of his two grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. I identify so strongly with their grief that this story stops me cold. Like them, I have lost a brother to death.
Mike was a Navy pilot flying combat missions at the height of the Vietnam War. For months we all waited and worried. He was on the verge of coming home when his tour was extended. When he finally returned home safely after more than 200 combat missions, I felt an enormous sense of relief. As a result, I was totally unprepared when he was killed in a crash during a training flight.
The first days after the accident are still a blur. Even in my memory, I view them through a haze of grief and tears. As the reality of Mike’s death sank in during the months that followed. I faced some very dark times. It was more than a time of grief; it was a crisis of faith. My view of God was too small to encompass the experience of my brother’s tragic death. I had powerful emotions that I couldn’t handle and no way to make sense of what had happened. I felt something of what Mary and Martha must have felt when they sent an urgent message asking Jesus for help, and he failed to show up in time.
Slowly, out of the grief and the darkness, a way of making some sense of the tragedy began to emerge. While this didn’t lessen the loss, it somehow made the grief more bearable. My too-small image of God began to give way to a deeper, more profound understanding of tragedy and how God is with us in the midst of it. In my darkness I learned something of how Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Mike was a pilot, and he loved to fly. God created him to be free and gave him the ability to choose. He knew the risks of flying and made the judgement that they were worth taking. In making that choice, he exercised his freedom. Unfortunately, the human condition is flawed. As a result, the inevitable consequence of taking risks is that some of those risks end in tragedy. Sadly, that was the case with Mike’s last flight. God doesn’t want these tragedies to happen anymore than we do. But the only way that God could prevent them would be to rob us of our freedom. Without that freedom, we could not choose love over hate, generosity over selfishness or life over death.
Mike’s death shattered my too-small image of God. Yet God did not abandon me. Like Mary and Martha, the death of my brother caused me to encounter Jesus as the resurrection and the life in a deeper and more profound way. Out of the ashes of the crash, I experienced something of the power of the resurrection. The God of the resurrection is with us in the midst of tragedy, helping us rebuild our lives out of the broken pieces.
As our Lenten journey continues, we are called to trust that God’s faithfulness is more powerful than death. We are called to trust Jesus as the resurrection in order to embrace a deeper and more profound life that we can only experience by passing through death.
Questions to Ponder
- As you reflect on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, what experiences in your own life come to mind?
- What experiences in your life – such as tragic death – have forced you to come to grips with having a too-small image of God?
- How are you being called to embrace Jesus as the resurrection and the life?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. You wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and you know the grief I feel for my loved ones who have died. Help me to trust that you can transform death into new life – an unending life in your presence. Be with me in my grief and turn my tears into a profound trust in you.
Jesus, you are the resurrection and the life. You were deeply moved by those mourning Lazarus. Gift me with compassion that I might enter into the deepest moments of life – whether to weep or to rejoice – and be present with others. When I am isolated, let me connect with those around me. Where I am numb, let my frozen tears melt so that my emotions may flow freely. Let me move beyond numbness and fear to embrace the fullness of life – even when it costs me. Help me to trust you as the resurrection and the life.