In the midst of the fear and frustration, the panic buying and the very real concerns for the oldest and most vulnerable members of our communities there was a wonderful piece of good news this week. The government had announced that they wanted 250,000 volunteers to help support essential workers in the National Health Service. In just 24 hours 405,000 people had come forward! It was amazing, heartwarming, encouraging and reassuring.
We know that there are tragedies across the world. However, the numbers, sometimes because they are quite ghastly, can easily hide that every sickness, every concern, every cough, raised temperature, hospital admission and, even more tragic, death is deeply personal. Usually friends and families weep, ask questions, get angry and sometimes don’t know where to turn. One of the hardest stories to read this week was of a lady who could not say goodbye to her dying Mother.
Where do we go at times like this? To whom do we turn with our sadness and questions? The shortest verse in the Bible, John’s Gospel chapter 11 verse 35, part of the Gospel reading this Sunday, consists of two words: “Jesus wept.” Two words at the centre of a Bible story that starts as a deep personal tragedy for a close-knit family who were friends of Jesus and His disciples, and ends with a demonstration of the love, power and victory of Christ over the worst the world can throw at us. It’s a story just made for this time.
Where do we turn when life hurts?
If you have a Bible you can read the story in John’ Gospel chapter 11 verses 1-45. Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived in Bethany a village just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem on the southeastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. They were friends of Jesus. Martha was a fantastic hostess and Mary just loved listening to Jesus teach and He treated her equally with the men…which was revolutionary in those days. Lazarus had fallen ill while Jesus was in the north of Israel. it was dangerous for him in Jerusalem but, after a day or two he goes south but, by this time, Lazarus had died, been buried four days earlier and the house was filled with mourners.
Martha learns of Jesus arrival and runs to meet him with a greeting that holds so many conflicting emotions “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The grief mingles with doubts, fears and questions. She doesn’t say “Lord, where were you?” but she would not have been human if that had not passed through her mind. There is faith there too for she also says, “Even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
When life is hard, when we want to cry out that it is unfair, when we feel we can’t cope or don’t know the way ahead; when we have made a mess of things or when the way someone else has treated us, offended us, betrayed us has scarred our life there is nowhere else to go but God. He can cope with our shouts, he can calm our fears, he can assuage our doubts he can assure us that in the great battle between death and life, he has won. As Jesus tells Martha in this chapter “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me will live even though they die. That’s what that verse is at the start of every Church of England funeral service. If the face of the finality of the coffin the Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ rings out that this is not the end. At Calvary sin and death threw everything at Jesus and he won. On Easter day the tomb was empty, Christ had risen, and heaven’s door stands open. That’s what believing in Jesus is all about.
It’s not long before Martha’s sister arrives on the scene and makes exactly the same statement as her sister. When they get to the graveside her tears have so moved Jesus that he cries too. Jesus wept. I believe he still does. I believe he still cries with the pain of his people and his world. All of us are worried just now, perhaps about ourselves, perhaps about those we love. If you’ve got friends or family who are doctors, nurses or other medical workers then you know they are in the front line and rightly are concerned for them. Share them with God. Talk it over with him, that’s what prayer is. You’ll find he is a great listener and you don’t need religious words, just talk to him as you would to a friend or a patient loving parent. After all, Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father.”
Unwrap him and let him go
The final words of today’s reading sound a bit strange, but the way in which they wrapped up bodies for burial meant that Lazarus needed some help to get free of the grave clothes. Lazarus needed help to be free to live the rest of his life. We’re not walking around in grave clothes but our fears for the future and experiences of the past can cramp our style. Jesus said “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
As we take our concerns to God in prayer, we can also ask for grace to be set free to be all we’re meant to be. We may or may not be able to be an NHS volunteer, but we can allow God to liberate us to love our neighbours as ourselves in whatever ways open up.
The Very Revd. Robert Key
Try this prayer at this difficult time:
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy.
Guide the government, inspire researchers,
sustain and support the anxious,
be with those who care for the sick and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may find comfort knowing that nothing can separate
us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen