Devotion: Vision of an Unbound Heart
Peace I leave with you; my peace will I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).
John 11: 17 - 44
Four days Lazarus had lain buried in the tomb. Many Jews had travelled from nearby provinces to comfort Martha and Mary in Bethany, a town little less than two miles from Jerusalem. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. Mary remained at home.
'Lord,' Martha wept. Her faith was precious, and very much alive. 'If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. I know that he will rise again in resurrection at the last day.'
Jesus replied: 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?'
'Yes, Lord. I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is and has come into the world.'
Martha went back to Bethany and called for her sister. 'Mary, the Teacher is here and he has asked for you.' When Mary heard this, she arose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but remained at the place where Martha had met him beyond the gates.
When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed the pace with which she arose and went out, they followed, supposing she was returning once more to mourn at the grave.
But Mary set out for Christ the Lord. Reaching him, she fell at his feet and wept, 'Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.'
When Jesus heard Mary's words and recognised her deep, longing sorrow in the Jews who had also come with her, he was deeply moved in spirit. 'Where have you laid him?' He asked.
'Come, Lord, and see,' they replied. The men and women stood before the burial ground. Before them, in the cleft of rock, on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, in a most vaulted cave, was the body of their beloved, deceased brother and friend. Jesus, arriving at the grave, stood before the stone and saw warmth in its greyness. In its clasp, an emptiness that would soon be filled with more than flesh and bone, but the spirit and sacrifice of He who had come to be the life and light of man (John 1).
Some of the Jews watched Jesus as he wept and whispered amongst themselves. 'See, how he loved him,' while others pondered, 'Could not he then who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?'
Hearing their words, Jesus was once more deeply moved and neared the tomb. 'Take away the stone,' he said.
'But, Lord,' said Martha, 'by this time there will be a stench. He has been dead four days.'
'Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?' replied Jesus, and so, the stone was rolled away. And, to heaven, Jesus lifted his eyes and cried: 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I say this for the benefit of the people standing before us, that they may believe that it was you who sent me.' And after he had said these words, Jesus called to Lazarus in a loud voice: 'Lazarus, come out.'
The dead man came out. His hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen. A cloth around his face.
Jesus said to the Jews and sisters. 'Unbind, and let him go.'
Luke 10: 38 - 42
Not long before Jesus and his disciples were walking toward the people of God. Their sandals were covered in grime and dust. Exhausted was etched into the age marks of their face. A woman named Martha opened her home to them. This woman had a sister named Mary, who knelt at the Lord's feet listening to all that the teacher said.
Martha had been distracted. She came before her guest: 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to work alone? Ask her to help,' she pleaded.
'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered. In his eyes was a woman of great tenderness and work. 'You are worried and saddened by many things. But come before my presence and be comforted in the promise of my words. 'Mary,' he finished, 'has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her. Come, rest and be.'
John 11: 17 - 44
Coming to them in their sorrow was the Lord. He had welcomed (and been welcomed by) them once before and would not hesitate to comfort them again (Matthew 11: 28 - 30).
During the Civil Rights movement of 1954 - 1968, American poet, social activitist and one of the earliest innnovators of jazz poetry Langston Hughes wrote:
Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing---
Never to kill---
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same----
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.
Grief has this way of remoulding character. It weighs attributes and appropriates methods of response. Weeping before Lazarus' grave was the one who would soon weep again. Great drops of blood and sweat in the garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:44). The hour of betrayal was still to come. His life to be marred by the rejection and darkness of men.
Weeping before Lazarus' grave was the one whose compassion would resurrect men from souls void of God. He who understood the weight, greed and emptiness of death had watched sin reach into the physical and spiritual lives of women and men and choose to sacrifice himself so that the incense of his life would split the Temple veil and allow all who call upon the Holy of Holies to find salvation in his eternal glory and grace (1 Peter 5:10).
His sacrifice would renew spirit and heart. Remove stone from flesh. Restore communion between God and man (Ezekial 36:26). His death was death------defeated in its every form (John 10: 28 - 30). Lazarus' death and resurrection was a corporeal revelation of another miracle soon to come.
God's son, having risen in stature, nature, wisdom and favour with God and men, would soon be betrayed and crucified (Luke 2:52). His beloved body wrapped in strips of linen and spice. Buried in an above-ground tomb. (John 19:38-42). On this Jewish day of Preparation, God's power and love would penetrate deep into the innermost places of the human heart.
Grief transformed the sisters too. It removed them from the characteristics they had demonstrated before, when Jesus had been a guest in their home.
Although much work was to be done in the aftermath of Lazarus' death (the ritual drinking for a mourning ceremony that would last for 30 days), Martha arose and ran to Jesus. In his presence was the comfort and certainty of one who had come for the resurrection of all humankind. He had called to her before: 'Martha, Martha.' She had heard him then and now she understood (v22). The compassion and omniscient nature of God does not belittle sorrow, but overpowers death.
Mary, the one who had knelt at the feet of Christ and cradled the words of his convenant company, could not bring herself to the compassion of his presence. She had closed her brother's eyes. Kissed his cold body in the rite of ceremony. Washed the creases of his skin. She had anointed it with perfume: aloe, nard and myrrh. Wrapped his breast elaborately in a shroud. Covered the features of his face with a sudarium. Tied his hands and feet with strips of cloth.
Hearing word that the Lord was coming, Martha rushed to meet in the entryway, but Mary wept, alone and isolated in the company of other mourners. Her grief kept her from Christ. Despair removed her from the comfort of him who had once brought her into the light of Life. This God, who would call Lazarus forth from the dark tomb, was approaching. But she was afraid.
Imagine yourself as Mary. In this moment, who are you? Are you disappointed when Jesus doesn't come in time? Do you feel anxious or dejected? Do you wonder who will care for you-----a woman left behind in a patriarchial society where wickedness is prevalent and prejudice rife? Do you wonder:
What kind of Love does nothing when it's in Love's power to intervene?
I wonder and I know. Who the Christchild is and has come to be. I see the weight of my sorrow in the curve of his shoulder. The cross stretched over both blades.
But remain with Mary for a little while longer and burden the heaviness of her sadness. I hear my soul in its grief, and realise that subconsciously, I have been afraid of the times when God didn't answer my prayers the way I believed he would.
Many days we walk through what ifs. I ask God what if and realise that all my questions reflect an inner concern over things I could not control. What if I was unafraid? What if I applied more diligently, to all of the things I love? What if I chose to remain in one relationship, and move away from another? What if I had met with grief? What if I was healed?
What if I?
In the quiet, candlelit morning, I meditate on two visions. Mary's and mine. I revise my what if questions into a balm of praise:
God of all grace, walk with us in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Establish our steps as we approach eternal glory in Christ. May your Word light our careers with exuberance. In the present and future to come (1 Peter 5:10). Even in our greatest suffering, your yoke has been easy and your buden light (Matthew 11: 28). Our hearts yeild to this: that neither death, nor life, angels,or principalities,things present or things to come, shall separate us from the love God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38).
I watch the sunrise from the window balcony and am reminded of how differently both sisters grieved the loss of their brother. I have been them both. Moments of rushing to Christ in my misery and fear, and moments, more often, of craddling my pain and nursing it privately.
In my vision, I watch Mary in the house, surrounded by people who are also probably wondering why the One who healed the blind and diseased did not protect Lazarus from death. None of their words comfort and soothe----only compound the pain of her loss.
When Martha reappears in the doorway, her countenance is gentle and soft. She says, 'The Teacher is here. Calling for you.'
Many what ifs are beyond our own control. Maybe Mary had a couple of her own. Maybe she felt alone and isolated in an undeserved guilt:
What if I had brought Lazarus a doctor sooner? What if I had watched over him with greater care? What if-----
But these what ifs were refractory to God's plan. A beautiful plan to reveal himself through the life and death of two sisters and their beloved brother. To be for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified (v4).
In The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, American writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry Madeleine L'Enge wrote:
One of the problems of being a storyteller is the cultivated ability to extrapolate; in every situation all the what ifs come to me.
As a writer myself, I resonate with this. Sometimes I begin a story with one denouement in mind only to discover many more what ifs arise throughout the day. Only one what if can conclude the prose. Maybe this end commingles with other endings that are not, in fact, the end, but rather, the entrance into new middleness and transition.
How many what ifs have you mourned and buried? Do you hold onto their memory with a sense of undeserved responsibility or shame? My friends ♡
Do you believe that God resurrects what ifs? Do you believe that God's what is far exceeds the what ifs we fathom and breathe? For the definition of faith is this: that God is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of invisible things. Great, immeasurable things that are more than all we dare to ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3: 20 - 21). To give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29: 11). Working through the what ifs of our limited peripheral, God is the I AM. The God of what is and what will be.
Hebrews 11: 1 -- 39
For by faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of what is unseen. Faith-----the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of invisible things.
What more shall be said? For time would fail me to tell of Gideonn, Barak, Samson, Jephthat, of David and Samuel and the prophets-----who through faith conquered kingndoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
Many were tortured, refusing to accept release from the enemy so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated----of whom the world was not worthy----wandering about in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
All of these, men and women, commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised while on earth. God was providing something better. That apart from him we should all be sanctified, made perfect, eternal and whole.
Exodus 3: 13 - 15
This God spoke with Moses on the mountain in Exodus 3, commanding him to
Go before the sons of Israel and say to them: 'The God of your Fathers has sent me to you.'
When they ask my name, say to them: 'I AM has sent me to you. The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever----a memorial-name for all generations.