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Reflection For 5th Sunday In Lent

By 26th March 2023Reflections

Bible Readings: John 11:1-6, 17-44

The story of the raising of Lazarus is one that we often hear at this time of year but I wonder if we ever stop to consider what was going through the minds of Martha and Mary at that time. Don’t forget, they knew Jesus well, He spent time with them and Lazarus whenever He came to Jerusalem. So at the beginning of this chapter when they sent word to Jesus saying that Lazarus was sick is it perhaps possible that they would have expected Him to come at once, to come and help heal His friend as He had healed so many others. But He didn’t…

We are then told that when he did eventually come to Bethany it was Martha that first of all went out to meet him. But what might she have been thinking or doing just prior to that moment. Perhaps she was wondering just how on earth she and Mary were going to be able to continue living without their brother. Maybe her whole body ached as she grieved the loss of her Brother as she suffered from both physical and emotional exhaustion. She and her Sister would have had to make all the necessary arrangements for the burial of her Brother And now she would be playing host to the family and friends who were there in mourning.

And what about Mary, was she sitting in the house grieving, unable to be consoled or comforted by any of the family or friends who were there. Or did they both take time to look at all the family and friends who were there, thankful that they were able to be by their side. And as they did so, did they think of the one friend who wasn’t there, the one who could have helped most…the one who could have saved their Brother…

Did that make their grief worse, did that kindle their anger, to know that Lazarus might have been healed, need not have died – if only He had been there…Why didn’t He come quickly, what was the delay. Surely Jesus didn’t intend to stay away so long, something must have happened.

And when Jesus did come and when Martha went out to meet Him – Lord, if you had been here my Brother would not have died…How was that said? Was there any anger or even resentment in her voice? We will never know. However, look what Martha says next. But I know that even now God will give you what you ask…

At that point, did she really believe that Jesus could raise her Brother from the dead. And even after that brief theological exchange between Jesus and Martha, about Jesus being the resurrection and the life. Did she truly believe that within minutes her Brother could be standing by their side once again…

Mary then arrives on the scene and says almost the exact same thing her sister did – Lord if you had been here my Brother would not have died. This time, however, there is no theological talk of any kind. Instead we are told that on seeing Mary weeping, Jesus wept. And when Jesus calls out in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out…How do these Sisters then feel on seeing their Brother walk from that tomb. Overjoyed, no doubt to have their Brother returned to them. But is there that question nagging in the depths of their minds, why did Jesus put us through all this and allow this to happen…

And maybe that’s a question we would ask also…Why did Jesus intentionally hold back and allow this to happen. Maybe a question that we’ve asked on more than one occasion.

How often when we walk in some dark and despairing valley do we feel as if we are doing so on our own because we feel as if God has abandoned us. How often have we felt that at that time when we need to know God’s presence most in our lives, it’s almost as if He is hiding from us. We call in to the darkness and all we seem to get is darkness in return – so we stop talking to God.

We stop talking to God, perhaps afraid that we that we shouldn’t be so angry or sad or that we shouldn’t be so despondent and despairing. We stop talking to God because we have no right to talk to God in that way – and yet perhaps this passage teaches us something different.

So often when we consider these verses we focus purely on the raising of Lazarus – and perhaps understandably so, given the significance of that miracle. Yet if we look closely at the behaviour of Martha and Mary in this story, we can take so much from it.

When Jesus did appear, Martha and Mary were not shy at sharing their feelings and their emotions with Jesus. In their time spent with Jesus previously they had learned a valuable lesson. They had learned to trust God in the darkest of valleys – but not be afraid to be honest about their distress. Jesus disciples had not yet come to this point in their faith journey but Mary and Martha are honest and even as their tears fall they say. If you had been here, things would have been different.

They may believe but still they don’t hold back their grief, their disappointment, their dashed hope.

And here we see that Mary and Martha have learned something that we learn over and over again – God can take it…We can scream, shout, weep, be true and honest about our feelings and emotions. Because not only will God hold all of that, God will scream, shout and weep with us.

The simple truth is that we all know that feeling, the wavering between despair and hope. That Mary and Martha experience of…if you had been here…mingled with…I believe…We have all asked the question why did Jesus allow this to happen. Where was he when I needed Him, I thought he was my Lord and Saviour. But the thing is, in asking these very questions are we not getting to the very core of what our Christian faith is all about.

To learn to hope even in the darkest of valleys. To know that life is indeed possible, and indeed stronger, than the darkness which seems to be all around us.

Is it not the case that what the actions of Martha and Mary teach us is that somehow we need to learn to live with both a sense of abandonment and the joy and hope of resurrection. That we need to put our faith and trust in Jesus at all times – good and bad.

I believe, said Martha, that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into this world…

Help us Lord to hold on to that belief, that we too may be as faithful witnesses as Martha and Mary…