Best of Daily Reflections: Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Grief

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.”

John 11:33

I like to call Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, Jesus’ “stay-at-home” disciples. It seems whenever he is in Bethany he spends time with them. Unlike the 12 disciples, they haven’t left their home and family to follow after him. He comes to them, especially when he travels to and from Jerusalem.

It is evident in Scripture that these three siblings were some of Jesus’ best friends. Lazarus is described to Jesus by the sisters as “…he whom you love.” Jesus “loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” but even after he heard of Lazarus’ illness “he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” The sisters’ greeting to Jesus upon his arrival in Bethany demonstrates their intimate relationship. Can you imagine knowing Jesus well enough to say to him: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died?” They each say this to him, blaming Jesus, at least in part, for Lazarus’ death. They disapprove of his decision to delay coming to them. And now their grief is compounded because it has been four days since their brother’s death. The body is beginning to rot and smell, and it was believed that the soul could not be reunited to the body after three days. How could Jesus’ presence make a difference now? It was too late.

In this particular story, most of the lead characters are weeping at one point or another. Mary weeps, the Jews who came with her as the mourning party are weeping, and then Jesus weeps. In these moments, Jesus becomes “greatly disturbed in spirit.” One version of the story says Jesus is “indignant.” The crowd assumes that Jesus’ weeping is a sign of how much he loved Lazarus and will miss him, but there is another interpretation. Could it be that Jesus is also weeping because all of those around him think it’s too late? They do not trust that God has power over death? In the raising of Lazarus, particularly on the fourth day, this miracle story shows the power of God at work in the life and ministry of Jesus. Not only will the final resurrection bring new life to believers, but Jesus is showing through this miracle that God is the God of the living and the dead. By seeing this miracle performed with their own eyes, those who are grieving might come to believe that Jesus is truly sent by God.

You know the end of the story. Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” And they unbind him and let him go. Within weeks of this miracle of resurrection, Jesus is back in Bethany just days before the Passover. He is eating a meal at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. One week before his own crucifixion—and resurrection.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you pray during times of grief? Are there always words to say? How does silence play a role in our grieving processes? Through those broken and cracked places of our lives, God’s healing presence can seep in, down deep into our souls and begin to mend our lives. When have you felt that healing presence of God at work in your life most fully?

PRAYER: Loving God, we thank you that you have promised not to leave us comfortless, but to send your Holy Spirit to live among us as our Guide and Friend. May we turn to you in times of sorrow as well as joy, knowing that you will grant us your peace that passes all understanding. Encourage us, renew us, and equip us to face all the changes that life brings our way each day. For we pray in the name of our Christ our Lord. Amen.


P.S. from Mark Roberts: Today, Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones continues a five-day series of Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Fear, Lack, Grief, Shame, and Hopelessness. All of us experience these places of pain and struggle at different times in our lives. Isn’t it wonderful that, as we read the stories of Jesus, we discover anew that God is already there in these hard places? He will not only walk with us through life’s most difficult times but will see us through—in unexpected and unimaginable ways. I'm delighted to welcome her as this week's "guest reflector," and I commend her reflections to you with enthusiasm. In her "day job," Susan is the Associate Dean for United Methodist Initiatives at Duke Divinity School. She and her husband, Greg, are great friends and partners of The High Calling.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.