[At least 3 deep breaths] It’s been another tough week hasn’t it? We just completed our second week of our building closure at Holy Trinity and it’s been a week since Governor Cuomo issued his New York on P.A.U.S.E. order. With the number of cases skyrocketing here in New York and around the country, and the reports changing seemingly every minute, it’s a lot to take in. Sometimes it’s too much. [Breath]
This morning we find Mary and Martha, two of Jesus’ long time friends in a moment that is just too much. Their brother is very ill and so in desperation, they send for Jesus to come and heal him. Knowing with every fiber of their being that Jesus could do what they ask of him. When Jesus receives their message, Lazarus’ name isn’t even given. He is simply told “he whom you love is ill.” And the gospel says though Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus dearly, he waited two days before returning to Bethany in Judea.
Jesus tarried rather than going immediately to the aid of his friends, even says that he is glad that he did, but he does go and promises that greater things will happen because he waited.
In his travels Jesus learns that Lazarus had died four days earlier and that Lazarus’ grieving family wants an explanation. Martha doesn’t even wait for Jesus’ arrival. She goes out to him, meeting him on the road and in her anguish says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus promises her that her brother will rise again, and Martha resolutely affirms her belief that one day that will be true. Jesus asks if she believes and she says that she does. Then Jesus encounters Mary, the one who sat as his feet to listen to him teach, who anointed his feet with costly perfume and wiped it with her hair. Mary knelt at his feet, like she’d done so many times before and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And Mary cries. We can almost feel the flood of emotions coming out in her tears: anger, disappointment, confusion, sorrow and many more. We hear the unasked questions too: Why did you take so long? Why didn’t you help? Where were you? I can’t help but wonder if we’ve been asking similar questions recently. Maybe you’ve been asking “Why is this happening? or “Where is God in all this?” I know that these questions have been in my mind. In suffering there’s a palpable feeling of separation, not just with one another but even with God. Yet in all of their hurt, Jesus is moved in heart and in spirit. Jesus, the embodiment of God’s own self weeps, just like Mary and Martha do over the loss of his friend. Jesus allows himself to be vulnerable and to emotionally express the love, compassion, and pain that he feels. Jesus expresses anger while flipping tables in the temple, he expresses frustration with the disciples when they don’t understand the point he is making, and Jesus weeps at the grave of his friend. It’s so human.
Jesus feels the same emotions that we do, even as the crowd gathered asked, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” While some questions don’t have easy answers the question of where God is present in the midst of suffering is readily apparent. God is right here in the midst of our vulnerability, big enough to take all our questions. In Jesus God joins Mary and Martha in their suffering and God joins us in ours too. God shows up in the tears.
But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus prays and gives thanks to God in the midst of the suffering of those gathered and shows everyone that he truly is the resurrection and the life and cries out with a loud voice “Lazarus come out!” and miraculously Lazarus walks out of the tomb. In the midst of his own deeply felt emotions Jesus reverses illness and death. They do not get the final word and neither will the Coronavirus, beloveds, though the battle against it is far from over.
Lazarus coming back to life does not erase the pain those who loved him felt. It doesn’t make his death any less real. It doesn’t mean that Lazarus was never sick to begin with. What it does show us is that in the midst of all of that there is still life.
Jesus tells the people gathered to unbind him and to set him free. In the midst of disaster not knowing what on earth happened the first thing that Lazarus experiences upon walking out of the tomb is help. I can’t help but think of a lesson I learned from Mr. Roger’s in that.
Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
I have been brought to tears repeatedly this week reading stories of the helpers. It’s those stories that give me strength in the midst of all the horror we are witnessing. In the midst of this outbreak and the precautions we are taking to prevent the spread it’s important to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and one another. It’s the reason why we will continue social distancing even during Holy Week and Easter, when we deeply wish we could be together. It’s the reason we call, text, and livestream to check in on one another. We are still connected in this and God is right here with us in the midst of every emotion and every question we have.
Growing up, one of the places I’d look for music to soothe my soul was in Broadway soundtracks. No matter what it was I was feeling in a given moment there was a showtune for that. Whether I was at my highest high or my lowest low, Broadway never let me down, no matter what life threw my way. This week was no exception.
“You Will Be Found” in the Broadway Musical Dear Evan Hansen has some poignant wisdom to share with us. The song goes:
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found.
Remember, beloveds, that God has found you in the midst of all that is going on in our world today. God has found you when what you’re dealing with is just too much. God has found you in your brokenness, your anger, your fear, your questions, your tears and will not let you go. You are not alone.