I wrote a short reflection based on John 11 that I hope will speak to our sense of injustice and pain, but that will also recognise and value the questions his death raises for our relationship with God. I have taken his name out of the text and replaced it with N…
The Gospel According to John – chapter 11, verses 17 – 27
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’
23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
This is Friday, but Sunday is coming.
In the minds of many who have been so deeply affected by the circumstances of N…’s death, there are questions that pose themselves with a keenness that wounds us. Of course, there is the question, ‘Why?’ Why did this happen at all; why did it happen to N…; why is there such evil in the world? And we could add to that list. But just as pressing is the question, ‘where?’ Where were you, God, when this was happening? It is by no means the first or last time this question will be raised. Sometimes it is raised in perplexity, sometimes in anger.
Within the story from John 11, where the good friends of Jesus, Martha and Mary, have lost their brother Lazarus, this question is raised by implication by each of the sisters – we heard Martha’s version. ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ In other words, ‘Where were you when we really needed you, Jesus?’ There is perplexity and anger amid the sorrow.
However, the story is not over, though we will leave it for a moment. We fast forward in the life of Jesus to Good Friday: he has been arrested, suffered an unjust trial, and has been condemned to death by crucifixion. Hanging in agony upon the cross he takes the words of Psalm 22 upon his lips and cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ In the most desolate and painful experience of his life, Jesus feels a sense of abandonment by God. He knows how Martha and Mary felt, and to a much deeper extent – but the story is not over.
In John 11, it was not long before Martha and Mary knew the joy of having their brother returned to them by Jesus, who says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ Lazarus was, however, alive to die again. But the story is still not over, for the Jesus who felt abandoned on the cross was, himself, raised to life on the third day, Sunday – a different kind of life; the life of God’s new creation – and he promises that through his conquering of death, his resurrection life will be shared by others.
Today, we feel like Martha and Mary asking, ‘Where were you, Jesus?’ The pain of the senselessness and futility of N…’s death is overwhelming. It will take us all our powers to say ourselves that the story is not over. This is Friday, the day of death and sorrow, but Sunday, the day of resurrection, is coming. And while we wait in hope and expectation, we know that there is one in the immediate presence of God who knows how we feel, for once upon a cross he asked, ‘Where are you God?’