Well, this sucks.
It's what we are all thinking. It's what Mary and
Martha were thinking in our gospel passage. You can hear the
disappointment in the voices of the sisters as they talk to Jesus:
“Lord, if you had been here...” What's the point of knowing Jesus
if it doesn't protect you from tragedies like this?
When someone is taken from us suddenly, we all do the
“woulda, coulda, shouldas.” We wish we could go back in time and
have done things differently. We even wish we could have controlled
the actions of others, that we could have made them make different
choices. But the past remains stubbornly the past.
And in one sense death is the fairest thing there is.
Everybody undergoes it: rich or poor, male or female, good or bad.
Death comes for us all. What seems unfair is the timing and the
You know who felt that way? The disciples. Just a
short time after the events of today's reading they are going to
experience the untimely and violent death of someone they love. One
Thursday they will be celebrating a big holiday feast with him and by
sundown Friday he will be gone. And they will spend the rest of that
day, and all of the next, and a good part of Sunday trying to make
sense of it all.
You know who else thought death sucks? Jesus. I just
read the shortest verse in the Bible which happens to be one of the
most profound. It's John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” He is at the grave
of his beloved friend Lazarus and his sisters and friends are
mourning. And Jesus too begins to cry. And it's kind of odd because
Jesus had to know what he was about to do. He had raised other people
from the dead: the synagogue leader's daughter and the son of the
widow at Nain. They weren't close friends but still, Jesus of all
people knew death was not the end. And he knew that within minutes
Lazarus would be back with his family and friends. So why did Jesus
I think it was seeing the impact Lazarus' death had
on everyone else. And I think it triggered memories of the death of
Joseph, the man who raised him. We never hear of Joseph when Jesus is
an adult. We hear of Jesus' brothers and sisters and mother but not
of Joseph. I presume he died. And it had to have had an effect on
Jesus. The man who took him to synagogue and taught him his prayers.
The man who taught him a trade. The man who stood by his mother when
everyone thought she was pregnant out of wedlock. The man who loved
him like a father. When he died, when Jesus first experienced loss,
it must hit him hard. And seeing Mary and Martha and all their
friends suffering the same thing brought old feelings back to Jesus
and he wept.
So he knows how we feel today about Andrew, husband,
son, son-in-law, brother, uncle, friend. Jesus knows our pain. And he
knows that it can knock you for a loop, no matter how firmly you
believe in Jesus and the resurrection. And so just as Jesus was
affected by the mourning of his friends, he feels our grief for
And so we enter into the paradox of grieving as
Christians. We don't deny the fact of death. We don't deny its power
over our emotions. We don't deny the wound it makes in our hearts. We
deny its permanence. We deny that it is part of God's original plan
for us. And we deny its power over our way of thinking about life.
And yet we cannot deny that we miss Andrew. And yet
we know that as Christians we should be happy for him. Any suffering
he had is over. And while he is not with us, he is in the best hands
we could hope for, the loving hands of his heavenly Father. For we
who believe, having someone die is rather like having a loved one go
on a long voyage. You are happy for them because they are off on an
amazing journey and a much needed rest from the trials of this life.
And yet, because you will not see them again for a long time, you are
sad. As King David said, our loved ones will not return to us but we
will some day go to them.
We do have memories: Brittney and Andrew meeting in
the first class of the first day freshmen year; the card games they
played in English class Junior year when they realized they were
becoming more than acquaintances; when he had this plan to ask
Brittney to marry him at the Key Western restaurant and then couldn't
wait and blurted out the question before they could even leave;
their dream of coming to the Keys and their determination to achieve
that despite the bad housing market and all the obstacles they had to
overcome. Which brings to mind Andrew's inability to believe that
anything was impossible. If you told him it couldn't be done, he
would not stop until he proved it could. And this was particularly
true when he put his hand to anything mechanical. He didn't just fix
things; he made them better. We remember his other qualities: how he
made friends with everyone; how he was always giving others a chance;
how he was always helping people out, like the time he and Brittney
were headed to Marathon and stopped to pick up a homeless man, whom
Andrew insisted sit with them rather than in the bed of their truck
and how he took the guy to McDonald's to get him something to eat and
then gave him some cash for his needs; how he threw himself into
helping out at our Vacation Bible School and how much he enjoyed
working with the kids; how he loved getting out on the water and
Those memories of Andrew as the outdoorsy, friendly,
loving, giving and forgiving, never-give-up kind of guy are a comfort
to us and an immortality of sorts. But they are tinged with the
bittersweet knowledge that no new memories will be forthcoming. This
chapter on our life with him is over. And so once again happiness and
sadness are entwined. We mourn.
And that's OK. It's OK to weep and mourn because
Jesus did. It's just that, as Paul said, we do not mourn like those
who are without hope.
And that hope sustains us. Our God is a God of hope,
of second chances, of never giving up on people and never letting
death have the last word. The fact is that just because this chapter
is over it doesn't mean that there won't be another. Every week in
the creed we say we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Because
that is God's basic modus operandi. He is the God of the living. He
resurrected his Son. He will resurrect those who are members of the
body of his Son. He will resurrect his wounded creation and restore
it to the paradise he created it to be. And he will populate it with
his people, in new and improved bodies, our same software, debugged
and downloaded into new hardware, as scientist and priest John
Polkinghorne put it.
Our hope in Christ is living with him forever in a
new creation. Not only new but better. There will be no pain, no
mourning, no disease or death. We will not lose our loved ones there.
That's where we will find them, safe forever. And so the only tears
will be tears of joy, when we join Andrew in God's new paradise.