March 29, 2020
It is a part of the human condition that many of us would rather forego. It hurts. Often grief may hit us at the most unexpected times catching us by surprise and leaving us not knowing how to process or cope. I was caught off guard this past week by the death of a friend that was totally unexpected, due to a heart attack. The grief that I have encountered with the combination of our current situation made me feel drained this week.
For those that have studied any type of psychology or even if you have not, may be familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Of course, we all grieve differently and we follow these stages in our own pattern, but I would guess many of our feelings are rooted in these stages.
As we reflect upon our gospel lesson this morning, I am kind of curious what stage of grief that Jesus may say that he is in throughout the familiar story of Lazarus. Almost the entirety of chapter 11 of John’s gospel is devoted to the story and it begins with Jesus appearing to his disciples to be in denial. He does not respond initially to the news of Lazarus falling ill. He was in no hurry to wrap up the ministry that they were currently engaged, for they stayed a couple more days before Jesus decided that it was time to leave for Bethany.
I am sure that Jesus knew what was going to happen once he arrived in Bethany. Was he ready to face Martha’s and Mary’s questions? Martha first confronts Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She was angry that Jesus was not present and was giving him a piece of her mind. While at the same time Mary was trying to avoid Jesus and stayed home and continued to grieve in her own way. We even have the people of Bethany questioning if Jesus could open the eyes of the blind man, could he not have kept Lazarus from dying.
As our story continues and Jesus is led to the tomb where Lazarus was, he began to weep. Not only is this a sign of Jesus’ humanity that he can grieve like the rest of us, he also reveals through his tears the great love he had for Lazarus and the same love that is given for us.
We have found ourselves grieving for many different reasons in the past few weeks. We have come to a time in history that we are not familiar, and we do not know how to respond to the rapid pandemic that has overtaken our lives. We have been bombarded by the news, social media, and news from the government as to what we should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes that information is wonderful and other times it can lead us astray or put us in a deep funk. As of right now in Michigan, we will be in this “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” situation until after Easter. As of right now, we will be able to go about our business freely on April 14. While I want to be optimistic, I would not be surprised if this date is extended. I grieve this!
There is a lot of grieving that has happened in this time as we begin to come to the realization that we find ourselves
- We grieve not being with one another to worship. This is especially shocking knowing the reality that Easter Sunday will not happen as a physically gathered community on April 12.
- We grieve because birthdays cannot be celebrated with families.
- We grieve for our high school and college seniors that have had part, if not all, of their last year taken away and even graduations as many colleges have postponed those.
- We grieve for jobs that we cannot go to and pray that they will still be there once we return to a safe time.
- We grieve because we cannot visit our loved ones in the nursing home or be at the bedside of a loved one that is in their final days.
- We grieve for the lives that have already been taken through this pandemic with the realization that we have only started to skim the surface of this thing.
Still, in the midst of Lazarus dying, Jesus arrives bearing a sign of hope. The same sign of hope that we can turn to at this time in our own grieving. Amid the tension of the grief and being cooped up in the house for weeks, the sign of hope that Jesus provides for us is a light among the darkness.
Jesus unbinds us from being captive of the grief that ties us down and leads us astray from the Good News that he came to share. The same unbinding that he did with Lazarus as he wandered out of the tomb. We too will once again be set free to go out into the world and walk closer then 6 feet from people. We will be able to gather, worship, and praise the Lord in our sanctuary once again. However, this time is also a good reminder that the church is not a building. The church is the community we will have created and continued to live into after this is all said and done.
Let us pray. Embracing God, we come to you with a lot of grief. Grief that has ruled our lives in the past weeks. May you take that grief away and remind us of the hope found in Jesus Christ. Amen.