Monday, June 13, 2016

Practice Resurrection

Today my scripture reading was in John 11 and the story of Lazarus. It starts off with the line, "Now a man names Lazarus was sick." Nothing out of the ordinary as we all get sick in our lives, but his sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus that, "Lord, the one you love is sick."  It is repeated more than once that Jesus loves this family, loves Lazarus, which is why it is puzzling to read that, instead of rushing to the bedside of his sick friend, Jesus intentionally decideds to tarry; in fact, the Bible says that he stayed two days before going back to Judea and the town of Bethany.  This puzzled Mary and Matha. Why wouldn't Jesus leave immediately to go to his friend? 

When Jesus and his disciples are less than two miles from Jerusalem, they are met by Martha who was upset with Christ. Mary is so upset with him that she doesn't even come to meet him but remains at home. She is full of sorrow and anger. But Martha confronts Jesus with, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." How many of us, in the midst of our tragedies, ask, "Jesus, where are you?" We may wonder this when someone we love has been murdered or when they die from cancer or when a marriage fails. So often, when we are in the midst of the darkness of our pain, we cannot see or hear anything past that suffering. We cannot see of hear the God who is with us in the midst of it. Many of us, like Martha, question Jesus, while others, like Mary, are so upset we don't even want to do just that. 

There is blame in Martha's words, but even in her anger she realizes the reality of Christ and ends with, "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus tells her, "Your brother will rise again." In her limited but trusting understanding, Martha answers, "I know he will rise again on the resurrection of the last day." She only grasps part of the spiritual reality of the situation, but Jesus tells her point-blank, "I am the resurrection and the life." Bold and powerful words.

When I read them, I wonder how those around Jesus reacted. Were there those who gasped? Were there those who doubted? Were there those who thought him blasphemous? How would I have responded? Would I have been like Martha and said, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God"? 

After her confrontation with Jesus, Martha goes back to get Mary. She tells her sister, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." Upon hearing those words, Mary quickly gets up and went out Jesus. Those in the house who were comforting Mary followed her.  Unlike Martha, when Mary sees Christ, she falls at his feet and, in great sorrow and pain, rebuked him with, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," I can imagine the words coming out in sobs until she finally breaks down weeping. Jesus is so moved by her sorrow that he weeps.

Mary and Martha both had expected Jesus to come instantly and perform the miraculous. They had seen him heal others and had heard about healings he had performed, so they had the expectation tha he would do the same for their brother. When Christ didn't come right away and their brother died, both women must have wondered, "Why?"

Why did Christ not come right away?  Why would he let our brother die? We thought he loved our brother and us. Yet he did not do what we had asked of him to do.

How many of us, in our pain and our hurting, wonder the same things? Why did Jesus let our loved one die? Why didn't he heal them? Why did he not hear my prayers? Why did he stay away from us during our time of need?

Yet Jesus is there, in the midst of our tragedies, and as he did that day in Bethany, he weeps with us. Though he understands the realities of death, he weeps because we weep. He feels the sorrow and the pain and the hurting just as we do because he loves us. This is a weeping that is more than the mere shedding of tears, but a gut-wrenching weeping. This is a shared sorrow. This is the kind of weeping one does in consoling a loved one, someone who is beloved, someone who is as close as family.

Yet he understands that death is not the end. It is never the end. When he was coming to Bethany, he told the disciples that Lazarus had "fallen asleep" and that he was going to "wake him up." Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, said that because Christ died for us, we can no longer call death thanatos (finality, death) but instead must say hyptos kai koimesis (sleep). As he wrote in his work The Cemetery and the Cross, "What is death at most? It is a journey for a season; a sleep longer than usual!" We should no more fear death than we fear sleep at night.

Jesus knew that all of life requires death and resurrection. Our own bodies experience this constantly. Cells in our bodies are constantly dying and new ones are regenerated. Within 7 to 10 years, almos every atom and molecule of our bodies have been replaced by new ones. Being and non-being and rebirth. It is a part of the natural process created by God. Birth, death, and rebirth. We see it every year in the seasons with plants.

art by Ashley Kirk

Yet when we are there, in the moment, of someone's death, we often are so broken and full of loss, that we are in that moment of darkness. There doesn't appear to be light. This is especially true when there are tragedies like the mass shooting in Orlando. It is a time of grief and questioning. Many are asking, "Why Lord? Where were you?" It happens whenever such tragedies occur around the world. Like Martha and Mary, we ask, "Why weren't you here? How could you let this happen?"

And Jesus weeps with us. He sees our tears and sheds his own. The Creator of this world gathers those tears. He keeps them because we are precious to Him. Because He does see and He does hear and He, too, feels the hurt of His children.

That's why Jesus tells us, "I am the resurrection and the life." Dead in our trespasses, Christ saved us and, in him, we find rebirth and are made new creatures. Because of this act of mercy, grace, and love, we then must do, as the poet Wendell Berry, wrote and, "Practice resurrection."

What does that mean?

First we must ask, "What is resurrection?"

Theologian N.T. Wright states that resurrection isn't just "Jesus is raised, therefore there is life after death." He writes, "Resurrection is to announce the fact that the world is a different place, and that we have to live in the different-ness." We saw this after the resurrection of Lazarus. We see it after his own resurrection. It means there is life after death even in this own life.

To practice resurrection means that in the midst of others sorrows, in the midst of their grief and their hurting, we must be there to offer them comfort, to offer them love, to offer them compassion and to show them the tenderness of a Savior who weeps with them. In the midst of darkness, we must be light. In the midst of acts of hatred, we must be love.  In the midst of hurting, bring healing. Through us, they might begin to see Christ. We must hug and embrace and love those who most desperately need it right now. We must hold their hands and listen to them. Listen to them in their pain. We must hear them. And, most of all, we must love them. We must show them that God is one who "heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3). Why? Because it is in just these moments of tragedy that we most need to "Practice resurrection."

Praying for the families, loved ones and friends of each of the victims by name. Each one was someone made in the image of God.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

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