While on vacation in Florida, I had a chance to talk with one of the neighbors, also a vacationer. We talked briefly about baseball, the beach, and getting away from the winter snow, but then the conversation became serious.
She shared with me that she had lost her son to heroin only months before. He was in his early 20’s and you could immediately tell that he was the love of her life.
“I will never get over his loss,” she quietly confided. “This trip is the first time I have left my house since his death.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I replied. “I know that it is something that will always be with you.”
“Thank you!” she blurted out, “for not telling me that I will get over this. I will never get over this! Why does God let this happen?”
Haven’t we all heard that question before? Where was God in the massacres in the Middle East? Where was God in the shootings at the mall, in schools, and movie theaters? How could God let this happen?
During Lent, we heard the gospel story of the death of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus. There is an answer to this tough question to be found in John’s Gospel. (11:1-44)
Both Martha and Mary confronted Jesus with that same question. When Martha went out to meet Jesus, you could tell by her voice that she was deeply saddened by her loss.
“If you had only been here,” she offered. “Lazarus would not have died.” It was almost as if she was blaming Jesus, even if just in the inflection of her voice.
Jesus then asked her a profound question, one that he is asking each of us, especially when we have suffered a loss:
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:23-26
Good question, right? Do we really feel that by believing in Jesus we will never die? Do we believe that death is not the end, that we shall have eternal life?
Truth is we all will die. Some at childbirth, some after a long life, but we all will die one day. We certainly can’t resent that loss and blame God for that fact.
Mary too, asked this question.
And, what did Jesus do? Jesus, not only divine but fully human as well, did what we all do, Jesus wept! Jesus loved his friend Lazarus, and He loved Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, as if they were his own.
Jesus was moved to tears. Jesus mourned the loss of his friend. It is OK to morn. It is OK to cry. It is normal, natural, and expected to have a deep sense of loss.
But, if we honestly believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and that if we truly believe we shall never die, then we understand that our relationship and bonds with Jesus are not severed at death. Death is not the end of Jesus’ bond with Lazarus and death is not the end for us either.
The scene at the tomb has much to teach us as well.
Jesus asks Lazarus to come out of the tomb and when he did, Jesus instructed his disciples to untie him and let him go.
And, my friends, that is what we must do when we suffer a great loss. Remember it is OK to cry, to weep and to mourn. After all, Jesus did.
We understand that we are never going to get over the loss. We believe that our loved one is still united with Jesus. And, we must untie our loved one, releasing the blame and guilt and let them go to Our Lord.
For those of us that remain, there is a question in the reading for us as well.
What is the tomb of your life? What has us separated from eternal life promised by Our Lord?
Is it drugs, alcohol, sex, resentment, anger, or ego?
Then, listen to the words of our Lord and take away the stone and come out of your personal tomb. Walk away from what separates you from God and walk toward Jesus, who loves you just like he loved Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
When my conversation with my neighbor ended she felt as if a burden had been lifted. She had suffered a great loss. She knew it was OK to cry, to weep as Jesus wept and that the loss would always be with her. But, she also realized that she needed to untie her son and herself from the guilt, resentment and blame and let him go from her loving arms to the loving arms of Jesus.