A Sacred Delay: Friends Trusted with Suffering
We are in the season of Lent. Have you seen the post on Facebook with that dry humor addressing the realities of social distancing required to combat our unseen enemy, "We did not expect to give up so much this year." Lent is the time of year we join Jesus in his journey to the cross. It is a time of self- reflection and prayer. In these days of slowed pace and unique rhythms perhaps there will be more space this Lent to attend to our hearts.
We offered a Lenten retreat at Grace Bible Church just a couple weeks ago, Journey to the Cross. This retreat focused on a few of the stories in Scripture when opposition to Jesus' ministry had increased and he was approaching his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. This retreat is now available to you, perhaps it will serve you in these final weeks of Lent.
As I recorded the lectio readings of John 11 this morning I was struck by how this passage is meaningful in light of the current health crisis. This Scripture gives the account when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. As I sank into the story again I imagined the uncertainty, the fear, the longing, and the hope—emotions that may echo ours these days. They waited… then the need became a crisis. And the crisis resulted in tragedy, rather than a healing. Or so it seemed. What were their thoughts as they waited for Jesus to come, the One who had healed so many. They waited, but there was no word, no response, no rescue.
The Scripture tells us that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They knew they were loved. But Jesus delayed his return to Bethany, and Lazarus died. The story seemed to end in despair.
John Eldredge writes in Beautiful Outlaw, “Be very, very careful and pay attention to how you interpret your suffering. Don’t jump to conclusions. Interpretation is critical. Beware of agreements you make. This is where your enemy can destroy you. Agreements such as God has abandoned me; it’s my fault; I’ve done something wrong; and a host of others… They allow a chasm to form between you and Jesus… pray against it; pray hard.” Let us pray our fears, our concerns and our faith in these uncertain days.
We do not know what the coming weeks will hold. But we can trust the One who holds us all. Jesus is so steady in this story. He was not bound by the perspective or judgment of others. He was not tethered to what might have been considered common sense or worldly wisdom, and he was not enslaved by fear. He was not self-protective. Jesus was fully aligned with His Abba Father. He cared for the souls of his disciples and those He loved more than he sought to control or eliminate their discomfort. Jesus trusted the purposes and the heart of Father God.
Sometimes the only place to go for the deeper learning, the expanding belief, and the deeper intimacy with God is to dive into the deep water. As the crucifixion drew near the disciples were approaching profoundly difficult days, the water was getting deeper and storms were brewing all around.
When Jesus, the God-man, had walked with confidence upon the Sea of Galilee months or even a year before, Peter had boldly asked Jesus to command him to walk on the water. Peter could comprehend a physical danger and take steps of great faith upon the waves with his eyes on Jesus, but when faced with Jesus' prediction of his own suffering and death Peter was resistant to God's purposes for the Messiah, His Son. Yet it was that path of sacrifice and suffering that accomplished salvation for humanity. We are always invited to fix our eyes on Jesus, asking God to equip us to navigate the deeper waters, the places of invitation to deeper trust.
Mary and Martha hoped for a healing… for there had been many healings. It was a good desire, but they did not realize what was coming. There would be a death, a profound loss, but there would also be a resurrection. I expect that the resurrection of Lazarus deepened their trust and strengthened their faith.
They would need strength and faith for there were greater difficulties ahead. They would need a hope rooted in a reality beyond present hardship and uncertainty. I wonder what Mary, Martha, and Lazarus spoke of the night Jesus was crucified. Did they remember the moment they saw Lazarus' emerge from his tomb as Jesus called his name? Did they remember that Jesus held life and death in his hands, hands that were human and divine?
Today, we feel the threat of harm. We are sending word to Jesus, and just like Mary and Martha, we do not know how this chapter will unfold and how God will respond. But know this today, "You are loved - completely, unconditionally, and without reservation." Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And Jesus loves you and me. A delay in the answer we hope for may be evidence of God's love rather than proof of something else. It was the death and resurrection of Jesus that brought us the deepest hope, so press on my friend. Persevere with me.