LORD, IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE . . .
SCRIPTURE: Romans 8: 6-11; John 11:1-27, 38-45
We may hear, see, or read of miraculous stories today where death was avoided by the skin of one‘s teeth, but we do not expect God to resuscitate our loved ones whom have died, let alone of those who have been in the grave four days. Instead, we are much like Martha who said to Jesus, upon first running out to meet his arrival, we “believe in the resurrection of the last day.” For we have come to accept as heartbreaking as losing a loved one or close friend can be, that death is part of the life cycle, not only of human beings, but the animal and plant kingdoms, also.
Nevertheless, do we not sometimes find ourselves saying also, as did Martha to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here . . . this or that could have been avoided’? Or, ‘These most unpleasant circumstances would not have happened.’
The sisters of Lazarus whom had died, Martha and Mary, were in quite varied circumstances to us. For the physical Jesus had walked with them, had meals in their home, knew of persons healed of deathly illnesses or lifetime disabilities. They had sent word to Jesus that their brother was very sick and that he should come quickly and head off the worst, the death of Lazarus.
Perhaps it is an illness or disability that is taken to God in prayer for healing, healing which does not come to avoid either death or a life of medical convalescence. Or, it may be related to livelihood, employment, finances, when an answer from God to avoid foreclosure, lead to a job, a windfall to avoid major indebtedness comes too late or not at all. And how many are the more trivial requests when left unanswered by God that can become excuses to follow Christ from a great distance.
Even though we may not expect the Lord to renew one’s physical life from death, nevertheless, we can understand the plethora of emotions which Martha and Mary experienced. Perhaps anger that Jesus did not drop what he was doing to hasten to Bethany, the home of his dying friend Lazarus. The overwhelming grief when Lazarus died and up to the third post-day of his death, no Jesus. And, then wanting to be joyful seeing their close friend Jesus arrive on the fourth day after Lazarus had been in the grave; yet, unable to be but passive-aggressive to even challenge Jesus with: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Our passive-aggressive anger may lead us to utter, ‘Jesus, you weren’t present when I needed you, so don’t expect my utmost devotion to you.’ Or, ‘Jesus, now the new job works out but look at how deep in debt we are.’ Or, ‘Jesus, why didn’t you care about my illness to show up, now what good am I to you?’
What lessons may we learn from our story from John’s Gospel today?
Perhaps the concern of greater consequence of sensing an absence of Christ when highly desired, is of a spiritual nature rather than physical. By all means, we do understand that both are related. All of our being is related, physical, emotion, mental, and spiritual, as this corresponds to the Hebrew understanding of being a soul, rather than having a soul.
So we note that Martha and Mary were given to emotions and physical distress. How stressed out they must have been. You and I are in good company with those sisters. They had sent for Jesus, whom they had confidence in to help their brother, and he had not gotten there in time--their time, or Lazarus-time.
We are always to be encouraged to trust that Christ is aware of our needs even before we share them or fail to share them. And well it is that God’s ways are not our ways nor is God’s timing suited to ours. Jesus explained that his delay in going to Bethany and his failure to do the expected of the sisters was for God’s glory and that he--the Son of God--would be glorified.
God’s reasons for delaying responses to sincere requests and serious problems are not in the same league as with the Lazarus operation. For it had to do with establishing who Jesus was and his mission as God’s Son. However, God sees where a change or no change in our conditions or circumstances can also bring glory to God. Illnesses may not be healed, even of the young. Jobs may not be secured to end financial hardships. Relationships may remain broken, in spite of turning them over to the Lord. On and on we each could testify of unanswered prayers; that is, prayers unanswered the way we want.
Incidentally, we should not consider Jesus ultimately going to the rescue of Lazarus because Jesus was physically there with them and not us. That is not a disadvantage for us. Rather, do we seek the glory of God even by the way of prayers being unanswered the ways we would like?
Martha and Mary, may have passively held some anger with Jesus, but they did not hold it back. “Jesus, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” They honestly shared their hurt.
However, their faith-foundation remained intact. Though shaken, they still, as Martha expressed, believed, retained basic faith--”Yes, Lord, I believe we will be raised in the resurrection on the last day.” Even though the sisters and mourners must have had some hesitation or second-thoughts about rolling away the grave-stone, they followed through. When life may appear the darkest, stepping onward toward the light may be all we can do. That is, unless, one crumbles into a spiritual meltdown. And even then, Christ offers a hand to lift us up.
Spiritual, physical, emotional or mental meltdowns do not leave us forsaken by the Lord. Prayers unanswered the way we desire do not mean we are unknown by our Lord. Through what well could seem a confusing and complicated matrix of life, God may yet work through us on earth or simply receive us or a loved-one eternally.
Finally, the sense of Christ’s absence can be due to our having drifted, moved, or escaped, as it were, from Christ’s presence, shutting off rooms if not the entire house of our hearts to him. Even then, we are promised of God’s nearness, readiness to forgive, and desire to be reconciled in relationship with us. It may not be “Jesus, if you had been here,” but “Jesus, if I/we had been with you.”
Yet, may all be to the glory of God.