The Cross Series (Lent, 2022)
Grief and Gratitude
In high school bible class, I was invited to pick out a life verse. I had difficulty memorizing things, so I told the teacher I was picking John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” I could memorize that! My teacher laughed and was a good sport but then he assigned me a long verse and gave me after-school detention. I do not remember the long verse but I do remember “Jesus wept, “a powerful and transformative verse.
Consider this: Jesus, God-made flesh, wept. The God of the universe cried and shed tears and sobbed! The interesting meaning of the word “wept,” however, kind of messed me up. It means Jesus snorted (like a horse). That is a strange word to describe weeping. I wanted to believe Jesus was crying out because Lazarus died and along with the crowds felt helpless. But this was not why he wept. Jesus was loved and known by Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. They believed He could have healed Lazarus if he had come on time…but because he had delayed coming, now Lazarus was dead. People were mourning and trying to minister to Mary and Martha, not knowing what to say. “Just get over it?” “Move on?” (When someone experiences loss and grieves, just go sit with them and say nothing. You give them the greatest gift of Jesus’s presence.)
SO, what does snorting mean? There are many reasons for a horse to snort: maybe they have junk in their nose that they want to get rid of; They have dry nostrils; this is gross to think about. BUT…did you know their nostrils dry out when they face an enemy? When they nostrils are dry, they snort, which is communicating to the enemy “don’t mess with us.”
Jesus came to fight against death and to destroy it: AND HE HAS! He snorted in anger and also wept real tears.
You get the message that Mary and Martha are peeved because Jesus could have done something. In these sermons over the past several weeks, a common theme in the Encounters with Jesus is that Jesus had compassion: on the paralytic, tax collectors and sinners, sailors afraid of the storm, hungry crowds, people who need rest. When you experience Jesus, you experience deep, true, intimate, true compassion. Instead, we might want what the sisters (Mary and Martha) wanted: for Jesus to be powerful and fix their problems. But he didn’t do that: he didn’t come and heal Lazarus. Instead, he came and grieved and wept with them. He also weeps with us and joins us in our grief.
I appreciate Jesus’ grieving with me. My father died when I was 16. I was told he was dying and that I should pray that he would go into a coma and so he could die peacefully. I remember weeping and crying out on my bed, “Please don’t take my dad. Fix it! Change it! Make it right; don’t let him die!”
Jesus’s invitation to a 16-year-old kid was to pray, “If you must take him, let him go into a coma and could die peacefully.” God answered that prayer and my father died without a horrible death struggle that would have been awful to observe. Jesus was in that room with me.
If you haven’t had that experience and don’t know how that works and don’t feel like Jesus is present, I get that. There are times when I feel that now: that is where faith comes in. When I grieve and cry out and he doesn’t seem close, he is close whether I know it or understand it.
I still grieve the loss of my dad. Grief is all around us: it’s the proper response to loss. To not grieve is to not fully know Jesus. If you long for perfection and experience perfection, you would not be able to identify with the god of the universe made flesh. Grief is the narcissistic, self-focus that God allows us to have. He even calls us to this: We are permitted to grieve. The alternative is to rage, to hate, and to die. Without grief, we turn to self-destruction and addiction, distancing, self-destruction. Grief is related to regret. If only Adam hadn’t sinned and introduced us to death, life would be grand. Being like God didn’t work for Adam and it won’t work for us. It’s not supposed to be this way!
Sin definition: that which is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Cornelius (Neil) Plantinga wrote “A Breviary of Sin: Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be” (2010) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Npj86MPUCmQ is an excellent book and I hold onto the title. We ee hatred, abuse, murder, a million other wrong things…its not the way its supposed to be. Its someone else’s fault. But if we look inside us, we see this ability to hate and destroy. The residue of death is in us: we conclude we are to blame. We are part of the reason that it’s not supposed to be this way. Somehow, we can make everything right. The right tools and the right people might make this come true. There is an old song that says
But one of these days when the air clears up
And the sun comes shinin’ through
We’ll all be drinkin’ that free Bubble Up
And eatin’ that rainbow stew
Older people here will remember Ma Bell, the old way telephones when we had only landlines: We had one company, Bell Telephone, who ruled it all. The system was the solution. It was arrogant when Ma Bell said it and it’s just as arrogant today! We think we will come up with the system. My parents believed they were building a better world for their children. They fought wars to preserve freedom and built stuff…but they also polluted and redefined success as having stuff. But then my generation wanted to undo their damage by overthrowing corrupt governments. But we created easy divorce and latch-key kids. Each generation believes they will finally get it right…but sin and death and evil permeate every generation. This time won’t be different! It doesn’t work out. We eventually face the enemy and find out only Jesus has the power over death.
John 11: 38-45 This is how we know Jesus didn’t just snort, he wept. He came to the tomb and told Martha, “Did I not tell you if you believed, you would see the glory of God.” Unbind him and let him go.
Jesus overcomes death. It isn’t an enemy that can’t be vanquished: he snorts and takes away his power. Then he does this for all of us when he lays down his life. He doesn’t leave the people just witnessing a miracle and with many more requests. Jesus has overcome death. Death is still real, and we will all die. Lazarus died again. Don’t you wonder what this was all about and yet he had to die again? Death was brought on by our sin. He gives us a job and a task to remove the cloth and unbind and take away the stench of death and to remove the grave clothes and offer compassion and love. We get to offer this!
You are facing horrible things: things done to you…our job as a community is to walk with each and hear our stories and to weep with compassion, not hopelessness. We invite each other into deeper intimacy. This leads us into gratitude. It really doesn’t make sense: Gratitude and grief? Gratitude for Emmanuel, God with Us. Heb 4:15. “We do not have a high priest…. time of need”
Do you really understand the depths of God With US! He isn’t against us: he isn’t a force who can’t or won’t act. There are tears on his cheeks. He defeats death and offers his presence. Through the generosity of this community, I have a prayer tub. It’s not a hot tub. It’s where I go in the middle of the night to pray because I’m ADD. I don’t focus on beans and it’s hard for me to focus and memorize. I rabbit trail: that’s part of the sin in this world. I just can’t do some things…but at night in the warm bubbly water, I can focus. I can remember your name and face and bring you to Jesus. Jesus is across from me, not physically and it feels he is there. Another problem of sin is to have physical pain. My vertebra collapsed with crushed nerves, my ulnar nerve. I lost use of my left arm. Nerve pain is unrelenting. You can’t take a pill and fix it: you just live with horrific pain. Jesus is there. His presence is what matters. I can rejoice, not in my pain and suffering, but in that he is with me and you.
Heb 12:28,29: “We receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken…fire” Let us be grateful
Eph 4:6,7 Isn’t this amazing? No anxiety about ANYTHING! We are to pray with thanksgiving and gratitude that God is with us. Rejoice always, pray continually. (ref?)
If I hadn’t sprawled out on my bed as a 16-year-old…I wouldn’t know Jesus. If I hadn’t cried out to him about my pain, I wouldn’t know Jesus. I want my sister with CP to be healed. But in so many ways, she knows more about Jesus than I’ll ever know. When I tell her I pray for her, she tells me how she knows he is close.
You can take away the grave clothes: You can unbind grave clothes and be grateful. We are in his presence now. He is close. We get angry and upset and are led far from where he wants us to be. Like Mary and Martha, we want the problems to go away. We would all be robots who walk around and say, “I love you Jesus.” But we can walk with each other and show compassion, bring meals, show kindness, sit with, offer courage, pray with. We can stop adding to the problem: Stop hating, destroying, sinning. We can do these two things: STOP it and show compassion. And know in the deep places that the God of all grace hears our prayers. We are allowed along with Jesus to snort at death: You do not have power. You are the enemy. Jesus has destroyed your power.