Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Death?

As I read the gospel for this Sunday (All Saints’ Sunday), I can’t stop wondering why. Why did Jesus wait before heading to see his sick friend? Why does he get so emotional at the tomb? Why does he raise Lazarus back to life but not bring back so many other people whose sisters and mothers and brothers and children missed them? Even more foundationally—why death itself? Why?

Preparing for a sermon this Sunday, I am reminded of some funerals I’ve been a part of recently. Although the context—like the readings—changes with each death, the message for the moment is largely the same. We have hope in the midst of loss. More directly, we believe that even death—the representation of our greatest loss—cannot withstand the life-giving power of God as revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although this Sunday isn’t a funeral, it’s a chance to say the same thing.

The “why” questions go deeper than the ins and outs of the gospel lesson. Mary’s “why weren’t you here” becomes our “why did this happen?” And our puzzlement at Jesus’ weeping invites us to ask what good could possible come from the death of a loved one. But Jesus takes us to that point. He lets Lazarus die to help us answer those questions, but the answers we get aren’t direct. They’re subtle, round-about answers that point us to bigger, more important conclusions that a simple “why” would ask. Jesus shows us that, regardless of why a death happens, death doesn’t win. Why? Because Jesus has the power to defeat death. We might not ever know why someone dies just as we might not understand why Jesus let his friend die unnecessarily, but we do know that there is hope beyond this life.

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