Reader: “If you had been here . . .”
Response: “my brother would not have died.”
Scripture: John 11:17-24
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Reader: This is the word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
Does it ever seem like all hope is lost? Martha, the more impetuous of the two sisters, was the one who went to meet Jesus. Apparently, with Jesus’ two day delay, he wouldn’t have gotten there in time anyway since Lazarus has already been in the tomb four days. Jewish burial was normally held as soon as possible after death. The Jewish belief was that the soul of the deceased hung around for three days for some possible means of entering the body again. On the fourth day it left. John was perhaps making sure his readers knew that Lazarus was dead dead! Many of their friends had come to the house to console the sisters . . .and became eye witnesses to the eventual raising of Lazarus. The funeral custom in those days would have been to come and sit in silence sharing the grief with the mourners. (I must add a personal comment here. When my father was killed in a farming accident in 1972, many people came to our house to express their sympathy with us. The most comforting, and helpful solace came from a farmer who stood quietly outside for a while and said nothing. As he left he just came up and said, “I’m so sorry.” with tears in his eyes. I remember it to this day forty-eight years later. That was the greatest comfort. It’s called the “ministry of presence.”) Martha’s response is kind of a mixed faith. She had been around Jesus and seen him heal people before and wished that he had been there earlier because he could have brought healing to her brother. She believed in an eventual final resurrection, but that was of little consolation now. She knew Lazarus was dead. That was final. This kind of situation is one of those challenging times when we have solid faith in the biggest picture, but are still in great pain for the present time. Martha reached out to the Lord and expressed her broken heart. Jesus did not recoil nor rebuke her for her response of sorrow. We live in a culture which has its own kind of denial of sorrow. Funerals have become memorials which have become “celebrations of life” . . .except that the person is dead. We have a convoluted sense of the reality of death and an inability to know how to grieve. We too often seek to avoid it. We can have wonderful memories, but the person is gone from this earth and we will never see them again this side of glory. That is heart-breaking and happy talk doesn’t deal with the reality of loss. Embracing the truth of life and death and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is what brings my only comfort in the death of a loved one. Never be afraid to express your true heart to the Lord in a tough time. Talk with the Lord and listen carefully with ears of faith. Sometimes there are surprises. Just ask Martha!
Music: “If Thou Wilt Suffer God to Guide Thee” Calvin Alumni Choir
If You Will Trust in God to Guide You ―Georg Neumark, 1641
If you will trust in God to guide you and place your confidence in him,
You’ll find him always there beside you, to give you hope and strength within.
For those who trust God’s changeless love build on the rock that naught can move.
Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully,
And trust his word; though undeserving, you’ll find his promise true to be.
God never will forsake in need the soul that trusts in him indeed.
And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen.
―Martin Luther King Jr., 1928-1968