In the past three years, I’ve become well acquainted with death. My husband’s father, brother, and mother have died. My son’s best friend died. My friends Elizabeth and Mike died. That previous sentence looks so odd to me. Though I’m talking about two entirely different people, my name is Elizabeth and my husband’s is Mike. In a way, the people we were before the death march have died as well. There were more. Ten funerals in three years. So many chances for our Lazarus moment. So many times God could take it back, make him or her live again. My friend Mike lay suspended between life and death for a week, plenty of time for God to work a miracle, even if God were bound by time. Still, each one of them died and was buried. So much loss.
The morning my father-in-law died, I was far from home with our boys. My husband kept the news to himself, but urged me to get home without delay. My daughter, who was home with younger siblings and utterly in the dark, had a sense something was gravely wrong, and called me frequently.
“If he’s gone, God,” I prayed over miles, “You can do something. Please, please, let this be Lazarus . . . .” When I got home, I learned that he was dead.
With Mike, we had time as a community to pray for a miracle. What could be better, God, during the week before Easter, than to bring our holy friend back to his life? Surely, if ever there was a stage for a Lazarus moment it was this one. Mike was pronounced dead on Holy Saturday, at the time of our parish’s vigil Mass.
Scripture reads, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So . . . he stayed two days longer . . . where he was.” What is that about? He loves us, so He delays in rescuing? Where is He on the long drive home, in the hospital vigil? Not there, because He loves us? But He is there, pouring out grace for a spiritual healing, if not a physical one.
He allows the delay so that we can see both His grief and His glory. Indeed, Lazarus dies so we can know Jesus, the fully human friend, who weeps with us. Then, He is fully God, raising His friend to new life. The resurrection of Lazarus could not have happened had Lazarus lived. And his resurrection after four days in the tomb is there to give us hope in the final resurrection, one that cannot happen without death. Our family didn’t get our Lazarus moment, where our loved ones were restored to us in this life. Instead we faced the reality of death caused by sin, Jesus wept in our midst, then gave us hope in the Resurrection.
Are you struggling to find peace in the death of your loved ones? Are you clinging to your Lazarus hopes? Today, trust in the resurrection on the last day.
Elizabeth Foss is a wife, the mother of nine, and a grandmother. She finds the cacophony of big family imperfection to be the perfect place to learn to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. You can learn more about her here.