John 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
After my husband died suddenly, I remember praying that God would bring him back to life like Lazarus. I wanted nothing more in all the world.
Yet, I had to admit it would be rather awkward. Surely there would be cameras, reporters and an endless crush of people wishing to be in the presence of the miraculous. Our infant son would forever be labeled as the kid whose dad rose from the dead. We’d relinquish privacy for the rest of our lives in the fish bowl of questions and expectations. We would also no doubt endure the anger and bitterness of others whose loved ones remained in the grave. In short, bringing John back to life would take away our life. Reluctantly, I resigned myself to the fact that no such miracle would happen, and wisely so. John was dead and would remain that way.
It forced me, though, to confront deeper questions of my faith. Standing before the stone that would never be rolled away, could I trust in the God who promises to open our graves? Could I still embrace Christ as the resurrection and the life? In the midst of the death and suffering of this world, what action or sign would be proof enough for me to believe that what God says is true?
The honest fact is that even if John were raised from the dead, many people would remain unconvinced. In the gospel, those who "converted" when Lazarus was raised seemed to leave their belief behind all too easily when the going got rough in Jerusalem. Perhaps that’s why Jesus increasingly avoided public signs and wonders, and why he refused to perform them for Herod. Faith based on signs and wonders is no faith at all. It is fickle, relying on the satisfaction of human whims with a constant stream of miraculous occurrences. Besides, Lazarus did eventually die, as John would have if he’d been raised. No "proof", no sign or wonder, no miracle would truly be sufficient.
In light of that, I am left pondering Martha. She clung to the foundation of her belief through the most difficult of circumstances. She knew enough to ask Jesus for what she wanted, and to wait for an answer. Even when she was upset with him for his action (or inaction), she felt free to let him know about it and express her anger and frustration. I believe that if she hadn’t gotten what she wanted, if Lazarus had remained in the tomb, she would have fallen into the arms of Jesus and found healing and hope in that embrace. Ultimately her unshaken faith was vindicated, not just by the raising of Lazarus, but by the resurrection of Jesus. She discovered the promises were indeed true, that new life was not just for her brother; it was for all who believe.
Since that fateful day when my husband died, I have repeatedly stood on the shoulders of this strong and courageous woman. I dare to trust in the promise of resurrection, even when there is no evidence whatsoever that it could happen. Time and time again, the promise proved true. No matter what entombs me, if I reach out in the blackness and grasp God’s hand, I know that somehow something good will come out of it. No tragedy is too great for the God of life.
I don’t have Jesus standing before me. I have not seen anyone raised from the dead nor witnessed the resurrection. But I have known my own. My experience of the faithfulness of God allows me to stand with Martha and countless others as together we declare, "Yes Lord, I believe." It is a belief to which I sometimes have to cling by the edge of my fingernails, and it does not spare me from needing to spout my frustration and anger to God. But I know in the depth of my being that when all is said and done, the final word will belong to God, and God will not leave us in the grave. God has promised and God will do it.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.