How many of you in these last few weeks have asked God, “How long, O God? Why don’t you step in and fix this coronavirus pandemic? Why don’t you do something?”
All of you? Yeah, me too. In my overwhelmed moments, I’ll admit I get frustrated with God, and wonder what God could possibly be up to in all this. Just when I was beginning to think I might have the beginnings of an inkling of some grasp on what God may be doing among us, a virus turns the whole world upside down.
I do believe God is present with us in adversity, but right now I don’t have much of a clue as to what God may be doing. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t what I’ve come to expect God to be doing.
So I understand Mary, Martha, and the whole village of Bethany who express their frustration when Jesus didn’t get there in time to save Lazarus. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We know you can do amazing things, Jesus, but your delay cost our brother his life. Why didn’t you get here sooner? You’re here now, but what good is that? He’s already dead.
I get their frustration, don’t you?
But we know what happened. Beyond anyone’s expectations, beyond anyone’s prayers, beyond anyone’s imagination, Jesus does something completely new and unexpected. He raises Lazarus from the grave. When Jesus first arrives in town, they believe it’s too late for anything to be done. When they are gathered at the opening of the tomb, no one has a clue as to what Jesus is about to do. Then when he tells them to remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb, they can’t imagine why he would think that was in any way a good idea. “He’s been dead four days, Jesus. There’s going to be a pretty strong odor in there.” And then when Jesus calls into the tomb for Lazarus to come out, I only wonder whether they kind of felt sorry for Jesus right about then. Poor guy. The pressure’s gotten to him.
They have no idea what’s about to happen. So can you imagine how surprised they were when Lazarus comes strolling out of his grave all wrapped up in grave cloths? No one had a clue that this was even possible! Life coming from the grave? Unbelievable! With new life now among them, Jesus tells the people, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
In the same way, no one has a clue what God is up to in the midst of this pandemic threat. None of us can even imagine what God will accomplish among us. Who can begin to understand how life will emerge from this coronavirus grave?
The photo on the screen is a young tree in my backyard. It’s only been planted there three years ago. Every year I wonder if it will survive the winter. It is so small and looks so spindly. Each winter it certainly looks dead.
And every year these buds start to grow. Even now, even with snow, even in a pandemic, God is bringing life out of death.
It feels like winter for us right now. It feels like we’re still with Mary and Martha, asking, “Lord, why didn’t you get here sooner?” It feels like we’re still in the act of following Jesus to the tomb without knowing why. It feels like we still don’t have a clue about what he’s going to do in the face of this disease.
But soon, just like then, Jesus will do the completely unexpected. Soon, just like then, Jesus will surprise us with the new life that we will experience. Soon, just like then, the new life won’t be what we think, won’t be what we’ve prayed for, and it certainly won’t be what we expect. But it will be a new life for us. Brought about by the love, grace, and compassion of Christ.
Jesus is ready to call out, “Lazarus, come out!” When that happens, be ready to unbind one another from our grave cloths. There’s new life soon to come.