This Sunday, after the 8:30 live stream I sat down to read through the second half of the book of John – where it describes the events of the last week or so of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion.
My thoughts behind this were reading John were – death seems very close right now – although the death rate is always 100% (and always will be until Jesus returns), at the moment we are all being made more aware of our mortality, and the mortality of those around us. So, what could I learn from Jesus and how he faced death – in that last week – which he knew was his last week before he would face death, how did he act, what did he do?
I began reading in chapter 11 when Jesus is called to heal Lazarus. Jesus doesn’t rush, and so by the time he arrives Lazarus has been dead 4 days. The scene reminds me of funerals where I grew up – where big crowds would gather to mourn and comfort the family. Everyone would stop what they would have been doing and come by foot, bike or horse to show their solidarity.
Jesus came and joined that crowd. I was struck by what he did before ever he resurrected Lazarus from the dead. Firstly, he reminded Lazurus’ sister Martha of the hope we have beyond death when he said:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Then he challenged her:
“Do you believe this?”
I wonder – do I really believe this? Do I see death as the end? Or is the sting taken away because we know that our Master is the resurrection and the life? What am I celebrating this Easter?
But Jesus then did something which stands almost in contrast to this.
Lazurus’ other sister, Mary, came to him and the story describes how:
‘When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Although Jesus is fully aware of his power over death, he still joins with the mourners and allows himself to become vulnerable and show his compassion and solidarity with them.
He doesn’t rush to the job at hand and raise Lazarus. He empathises with the emotions of those around him and he engages with them.
Whilst death may not have the same sting for us as it does for many, it still causes a lot of hurt and trauma. Even Jesus acknowledged and gave time for this. Coming alongside, lamenting, and mourning are not signs of weakness – they are signs of our humanity – which we share with Jesus.
Death does not have power over us – but we do allow our love for others to influence us – as Jesus did.
One of the most wonderful parts of my job at the moment is ringing people to see how they are doing – partly because I get to hear people’s voices who I’m not seeing, partly because I hear of people’s resilience and upbeat attitudes despite everything, but partly because I can join people and listen to the very real, and often difficult situations they are facing. This might not sound life giving – but we were created to love others – and part of that is joining them in the hard things – when we choose to only live the joyful side of things with people we are missing out on living the full life Jesus promised us – and actually we are less able to celebrate the good if we ignore the bad.
Let’s try each day to spend time listening to, and entering into someone else’s situation with them – however hard that may be – it may seem hard at the time – but I’ll be very surprised if at the end of that day we don’t feel more fulfilled than if we’d spent the whole day focusing on ourselves…
And let’s think about how we can maintain this when things return to a more normal state…
At the heart of our faith comes Easter – Christianity acknowledges the pain, and sadness caused by death, and only after this are we able to celebrate the joy of Jesus’ triumph over death. If we really get into Easter we will be so much more well equipped to deal with the reality of life right now.
Christianity is not a religion that advocates escapism, or numbing ourselves to the emotions of life – it’s the religion that tells of a God who became human and entered into all the suffering and joy of life – if we choose to follow Jesus we will live life to the full – the good and the bad – all in the knowledge that death won’t be the end – but the beginning of the best, and eternal stage of life. And for now, the best use of our time is spent loving others, listening, serving, celebrating, … and mourning.
Let’s be a people known for our hope this Easter, but also a people of whom it is said, as they did of Jesus:
“See how they love people!”