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During the months of June & July, I want to take the opportunity in the Pulse to remember some of our brothers and sisters in the faith who have gone before us into the presence of Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” In that spirit, I want to remember and honor the work of the Lord that was done by some truly special men and women and testify to how it was not in vain.
These past two months, as I have reflected on members or close friends of our church who have passed away during the time that I have been pastor, I have been reminded of how special each of those individuals were, and how, while the world may go on for most people, life is forever changed for those who lost their loved one. I have always loved this quote from the late Christian singer Rich Mullins, which I shared in the first reflection I wrote: “I think we cry at funerals – even at funerals of people we don’t like – because we realize what a miracle a life is. You realize, ‘This will never happen again.’ There will never be this exact combination of genes, there will never again be the things that have created this person to be what he is. God has spoken uniquely here, and it’s gone. It’s over. And I think there is some regret, because we all realize, boy, we didn’t pay enough attention.”
The last person I wanted to mention was Pat Beaudreau, who passed away on February 12th, 2017. Like many others, her death was a slow and painful one, as cancer ate away at her body and sapped her strength until she could not fight any more. She left behind her beloved daughter Lizzy. But like the others I have written about, Pat is with Jesus now, and she suffers no more.
It can be terribly painful for a person to watch a loved one go through cancer, or die slowly from any other disease for that matter. As we watch our fervent prayers go unanswered, it is normal to wonder why God does not act, why He would allow His child to suffer so much. At times like that, I am reminded of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. In John 11, receives word from his friends Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus is dying. But by the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has already been dead for four days. Both Mary and Martha come out separately to meet Jesus, but they each say the same thing to Him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Those words encapsulate how many of us feel as our loved one suffers and dies: we believe you are God, and we believe that you have the power to stop this from happening. And yet you do not show up. Why, God? Why would you allow this to happen?
The amazing thing about this passage is that even though these two sisters say the same thing to Jesus, He gives a different answer to each of them, and by doing so, helps us understand where God is when our loved ones suffer and die. With Mary, he asks her to take him to the tomb, and when he gets there, he weeps (John 11:34). Even though Jesus knows that in ten minutes, he will be raising Lazarus from the dead, he still weeps alongside his friends at the death of their loved one. The Greek word used in this passage connotes an angry weeping. Why is Jesus angry? Because it was never meant to be this way. Death was not a part of God’s good creation; it is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is a terrible tragedy. It is so painful that even the Son of God wept before Lazarus’ tomb.
Where is God when our loved ones suffer and die? He is weeping alongside us.
But that is not the only place He is. If that’s all He did, we would still be lost and without hope. When Martha comes to Jesus and says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Jesus replies “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. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). And then, to prove that He has the power over death, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
I love the fact that Jesus weeps at the grave of Lazarus. I love that our God has that kind of compassion and that He shows us that it is right to cry and be angry when someone dies. But if all we had was a God who weeps alongside us at the tragedy of death, but could do nothing about it, what good would that ultimately be? As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, if all we have is hope for this life, we are to be pitied above all men. But Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the one who died and rose from the grave, and now all who live and believe in him will never die but will have eternal life.
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Because of this, Paul can say in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” We grieve and we curse this fallen world and the tragedies that befall us and our loved ones. But we do not grieve like men who have no hope, because He is the resurrection and the life, and those who die in Him will live forever. This is our hope and our steadfast belief in the face of death. Amen.
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