The story of Mary and Martha and Lazarus resonates with me. The many messages of that story draw me back to it over and over again:
Jesus loves us deeply and intimately.
Jesus calls me to rest with Him especially when I have too much to do.
He joins me in my heartbreak.
He weeps with me.
Death has been conquered, but it still hurts.
I still do not understand.
When I can’t understand, He calls me to trust.
Because I believe, I see the glory of God.
I relate to Martha and her urge to be working. I relate to Mary and her desire to be near Jesus. I relate to both of them in the agony of burying a brother.
He died 25 years ago, and I still feel the crushing blow of losing my closest childhood companion, my partner in teenage misadventures, my favorite double date buddy; the little brother who could snap my last nerve; the man who rebuilt the engine in my car and drove it back to me 7 hours away at college; the father of my beautiful nieces. I miss him.
I relate to Mary and Martha weeping at a tomb and wondering why Jesus didn’t prevent the death of their brother. This is, I think, the part of their story that binds my heart to this passage and draws me back to this moment in scripture over and over.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha said. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Mary cried. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Leann’s heart lied. I felt it deep in my heart the night his car was hit by a train. Twenty-five years later, I still struggle with that thought and the truth on the other side.
The truth is harder to swallow than the lie. As a believer, I know Jesus is always with us–even to the end of the world. Jesus was there. Karl did die.
When Lazarus fell sick, Jesus intentionally avoided being physically present when Lazarus died. He chose not to heal Lazarus. He could have prevented Lazarus’ death from a distance. He did exactly that with the Centurion’s servant–healing the servant from a distance without coming near. Jesus could have arrived before death. He, did, after all, know what was happening. Scripture tells us He waited and then, knowing Lazarus had died, finally went to Bethany. Mary and Martha were convinced that if Jesus had been physically present, Lazarus would not have died. The truth is Jesus could have been present and Jesus could have prevented his death without being present. When confronted with, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Jesus doesn’t explain Himself. Instead, He promises resurrection and then says to Martha (and me), “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?”
I relate to Martha. I think she is me, I am she in this story. “Yes, Lord,” she and I say. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” And then we go back to what we were doing, really expecting nothing to change. Martha went back to the house and told Mary to go see Jesus.
After hearing the same heart-breaking words from Mary, Jesus goes to the tomb. He prepares to answer Martha’s heart cry. He calls for the stone to be rolled away and Martha stops Him: “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” How is that for a clear indication of her expectation?! She pushes back against the One she believes can perform miracles because she expects reality to be unchanged by His power. The fear of the unanswered prayer keeps us from acting in faith. Like Mary, we ask Him to intervene and we still behave as if He can’t.
Jesus had a plan to show the glory of God to Martha and Mary and all those present and all of us who know this bit of history. Jesus has promised us that all things work together for our good, and He weeps with us when the things He will work to our good don’t feel good at all. He battles for us. He prays for us. He intervenes for us. He weeps with us. And He answers our prayers. “Didn’t I tell you if you believed you would see the glory of God?” He asked. Then He prayed and called Lazarus out of the vice of death.
I hold on to that truth when the rest of the story overwhelms me. I remind myself of the truth of Jesus words: “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. ” Lazarus rose from the dead and returned to this world, a world of sin and brokenness. Karl rose from death into abundant life with God who wipes away every tear and brings us into the joy of His power and presence by the blood of Jesus.
I still struggle with why. There are so many heartbreaking repercussions of Karl’s exit from this world. I still fall at Jesus feet and cry for answers I don’t have. And my answer is still, “Yes, Lord. I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” And He keeps showing me the glory of God.