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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, September 17, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  John 11:30–44

Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

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. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (NRSV)

Reading this passage from John, one could see themselves in the place of so many of the characters. For example, we could see ourselves as Mary, in shock, angry at Jesus for not coming more quickly, believing he could have saved Lazarus before he died. Or Martha, the one who went to meet Jesus, deep in grief, no longer in denial, also berating Jesus for not getting there more quickly, practically saying it was too late as there would be too big of a smelly mess to open the tomb at this point.

We could imagine ourselves in the crowd of neighbors who were following the action, sad, curious, and slightly critical bystanders, commenting on all of the actions of Jesus. Or empathize with Jesus, who was overcome by his own personal grief, having loved Lazarus as a brother.

Yet I am inviting us to put ourselves in the place of Lazarus, dead for four days. I invite you to think of a time when you might have felt “dead,” perhaps in depression or despair over the loss of a loved one, a marriage, a career, or sense of identity. Maybe your death experience was induced by substances or a reckless act, accident, or even violence. Perhaps you actually had a near-death experience and been close to crossing over for a moment, days, or an extended time of illness.

It is said by many spiritual traditions that the way to an authentic life of purpose is to prepare for your own death. Perhaps in this story we can see ourselves “practicing” dying by letting go of what we no longer need to hold onto in this lifetime and by saying yes to the outstretched hand of love by the one who is not afraid of what will be found in the inner cave of our being but commanding us to let go of our grave clothes and be free.

Dear Jesus, thank you for believing in the healing power of transformation, even to the point of dying and being reborn. I see the offer of your outstretched hand in the circumstances of my life and accept your call to freedom. With love and gratitude. Amen.

Written by Susan Schemper, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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