32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ John 11: 32-44 (NRSV)
By Jürgen Schoner [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
“‘When my third snail died,’ the little girl writes, sitting halfway in, halfway out of her desk, one leg swinging in air, ‘I said, I’m through with snails.’ She sits up to let me pass down the aisle, the visiting poet working with the third grade in this dying school, this dying town, we are writing about our lives.” Kathleen Norris writes in Dakota: A Spiritual Biography.
There are many reactions to death. What are yours?
Kathleen continues… “The teacher is writing too. Yesterday she told me that when I asked the kids to make silence and the room was suddenly quiet, she thought about her mother. ‘She has been dead for years,’ she said, adding almost apologetically, ‘I don’t know why I thought of her. But then I just had to write.’ She told me about the smells, how this time of year the lingering scent of pickling spices in the house would gradually give way to cinnamon, peppermint, cloves, the smells of Christmas baking. ‘It was the candy I loved most,” she wrote, “nut fudge, caramels, divinity.’”
What memories do you have of your loved ones? Do you write? What do you do with your memories?
To remember is good. Even though it can be bittersweet. Sharing stories and memories can also be healing. My father was particularly good about sharing stories about my ancestors. Who in your family passes on the family stories?
And yet, for me, as good and healing as it can be to remember – remembering alone is just not enough.
Kathleen Norris continues in what seems at first to be a completely disconnected thought: “The sunsets here have been extraordinary, blazing up like distant fire in the window of the old boarding house where the school has put me. Last night I was reading when the light changed: I looked up and gasped at the intensity of color, a slash of gold and scarlet on the scribble of the horizon. I was reading one of the old ones who said, ‘One who keeps death before his eyes conquers despair.’ The little girl calls me, holding up her paper for me to read:
When my third snail died, I said,
‘I’m through with snails.’
But I didn’t mean it.”
What is your reaction to death? It is natural to what to be “through with” the things that cause us pain – the things that cause us to grieve. It is natural to try and avoid or want to be through with those feelings. But, do we really mean it? To be through with the things that cause us grief – to be through with acknowledging death – is only possible if we are also “through with” life and love.
Jesus grieves when he comes to Lazarus’ grave. He cries real tears. The Greek words indicate he was moved in his bowels – he is physically affected. He feels sick.
The relatives and friends have gathered. Like people through the ages have done at such times. They talked in low voiced. They reconnected – the told stories – they remembered. Jesus comes to be with them as they do.
But it is not enough for Jesus to simply remember. Jesus does something more. Jesus goes to the grave and shouts, “Lazarus, come out. And he does. He does!
On Easter morning the disciples have gathered together in the upper room. They have come together like people through the ages when a loved one dies. They talked in low voices. They reconnected – they told stories – they remembered. And then, Mary and the women break in with the news – Jesus is risen! When they can’t believe it – Jesus appears to them. Showing them his hands and his side.
God is determined to not allow death to be the last word. God is determined to wipe every tear from our eyes. God is kept his promise that death will be no more. There will come a time when: mourning and crying and pain will be no more, because these things have passed away. It struck me this week how we used the words “passed away” as a euphemism for death. Now here in Revelation 21 we are told morning, and crying and pain have passed away. God has once and for all destroyed the shroud that is cast over all the peoples – the death sheet that covers us. Oh yes, the day is coming when God will destroy all that causes us to weep or feel disgrace. And instead will prepare a magnificent feast of rich foods and well-aged wine.
Remembering what was ——— is good. But it wasn’t enough for Jesus. In those moments when it is not enough for us – when we just want to be “through with” snails. In those times when we want to be though with negative feelings – through with the pain of life and love. Jesus shows up and says, Lazarus, “Come out.” Jesus shows up having left the burial clothes in the tomb. Jesus show up showing us his hands and his side. Jesus shows up in the blaze of a brilliant sunset, or in the words of one of the old ones, or in a little girl’s poem reminding us that death does not have the last word. So it is OK to embrace wanting to be “through.” Because since God is at work bringing healing — sooner or later we will also realize we don’t mean it.