Based on John 11:1-45 “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
During this Lenten season, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead has special impact as it foreshadows the resurrection of Jesus we are about to celebrate in this Easter time. Especially poignant in this telling of the story is the impact Lazarus’ death had on Jesus. John’s Gospel tells us Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. He knew Lazarus as an individual and as a believer. In his humanity, Christ mourns the death of Lazarus as a believer and as a friend. He weeps with Martha and Mary. In spite of his remorse and sorrow, Christ teaches us God uses tragedy and sorrow for God’s own purpose. In this recounting, the death and resurrection of Lazarus was necessary to demonstrate the holy nature of Jesus and the redeeming power of God. We tend to view these events from our human understanding, but this passage reminds us of the divine purpose God had in store for Lazarus and those who witnessed the act. This also reminds us of the plans that He has for us in the midst of sorrow.
In writing this devotion, it is hard to separate the preparations for Holy Week and Easter from the current events that confront us. In this environment, where many have died and we are all suffering with anxiety regarding the Covid-19 virus, we can be assured God suffers with us and also provides us with the strength to endure that which we face. Just as with the death of Lazarus, there is a lesson to be learned from God‘s faithfulness in this time. As a people of faith, we trust in the ability of God to use all things for God’s divine purposes and to use the current events for good – in unanticipated ways.
Many have commented on the heightened anxiety and isolation during a time of Lenten preparation. Perhaps we are all being called to a Sabbath opportunity- an opportunity to withdraw, reconnect with our faith, reflect and re-energize for a whole new battle. We are all exploring new ways to conduct worship and ministry freed from the constraints of a physical facility and open to the possibilities of new ways of connecting. In this time of “social distancing,“ we are being called to a time of greater and more intimate spiritual connection.
What surprised you this week? Was it a call from a loved one with whom you have not spoken to for a while? An unexpectedly positive reaction to worshiping on-line? Rediscovering the healing power of prayer and reflection? The creativity of those around you as they find new ways to carry forth our mission and outreach? Perhaps expressing love for others in our community by obeying shelter in place orders? These unexpected benefits of our global anxiety may all be the working of God in ways beyond our understanding. What I find most gratifying is the demonstration of love for others. We are all making personal sacrifices to protect not only our own health but the health of others whose names we may never know. It is a great example of our ability to anonymously serve those who are most at risk. We trust in a God who can bring light from darkness, life from death, and maybe in this time, a greater sense of community from a time of physical separation.
In this time of uncertainty, there are some things we can state with certainty. The God of yesterday, today and tomorrow is with us in our isolation. When we emerge from our homes as Lazarus emerged from the tomb, that same God will be there to greet us and guide us in the new reality that we all face. Many people now recognize that there are gaps in their lives that can only be filled by faith. May we all have the wisdom and strength to provide consolation to those that are suffering, discipleship to those who feel the void and an openness to the reawakening and renewal that awaits us all.