If Only You Had Been Here….

jesus and marthaWhen Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Judean had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

If only you had been here. Here are some of the most painful words to endure. If. Only. You. They rest on a glacier of remorse, chagrin, and regret. OH Martha, Martha, you who are preoccupied with so many things, you can’t understand it, can you? You work yourself silly trying to do it all, to be all, to be responsible. You must be an oldest child. Oh, Martha, your words drive a spike into my heart. You have so much confidence in Jesus that you really do believe he can do it all, be all, even when you have reached your limits. That’s saying a lot because you are immensely capable, and others believe you can do anything too, don’t they? But… You couldn’t stop Lazarus from dying either, could you? Martha dear, your shoulders are sagging beneath the weight of all this responsibility. You have come out to meet Jesus, you took up the burden of host and once again, your sister stayed home, nowhere to be seen. No one would even relieve you of this. You expected to Jesus to shoulder some of it for you, didn’t you?

And then, he didn’t come. Not when Lazarus was sick. Not when Lazarus was dead. Four days is a little late in the process you know. Saving Lazarus was beyond your considerable skill set. Yet you had hope that God would give Jesus whatever he asked. But God did not give you what you asked. You only wanted Jesus to come. And then, he didn’t come.

Martha, sister, I live with your pain too. Pecked to death by ducks. Do this. Go here. Fix this. Will you…? Can’t you….? Why aren’t you….? Where’s my….? Things start dropping and slipping through the cracks until eventually they are swallowed whole in the cavern beneath my feet. Trying to be dutiful and responsible, the accusation comes to me too, “If only you had been here…” I know why it escaped from your lips. You had hoped that someone stronger would have come in time to pick up the burden you could no longer carry, the burden that exceeded all your capabilities.

Martha dear, yours is not the fault of believing too little–it is the fault of believing too much. Believing that too much rested on your shoulders alone. Believing that no one else could relieve you of that weight. Believing that Jesus would come. What else could you say, except to pour out this painful lament, “If only you had been here.”

Such is the lament of women of a certain age. Old enough to have seen plenty. If our first pregnancy had survived, I would have a 24 year old. If only we had married five years sooner. If only I had gone to seminary right after college. If only they understood then what they do now about…….(so many things!) If this medicine had been available when…. If I had not forgotten this thing or that meeting. One who has not lived through much doesn’t have much of a timeline to assess and measure the consequences of being one place or another, one thing or another. But after a certain age, we understand this lament.

Jesus deserved your reproach. Others had probably given you enough of the same, and maybe you knew what it felt like to be judged wanting. Nothing you could do was enough to keep Lazarus alive. You believed there was just one who was stronger, just one who could have done more. And he didn’t come.

You believed in the resurrection. Of course you did. Plenty of people believed in the resurrection. It was a way to make sense in a world where good people were slaughtered for no reason. In the resurrection, there would be justice, even if there was none to be seen now. I believe that too. I believe that beyond all present suffering God has the last word, and it’s the same as the first word: the word God spoke that brought into being all that is. That can seem like a distant comfort when your arms are aching now for the one you lovingly nursed and held him until his breath went out of him.

Jesus speaks, and the conversation zooms from the end of time into his eyes, met with Martha’s.   I am the resurrection. Resurrection begins now. The God who spoke the first word that brought the breath of life continues to speak. Not someday. Now. Eternal life isn’t someday. It’s begins now. Martha can you believe this? Will you still believe it when they take Jesus’ dead body down from the cross? I wouldn’t blame you if you quivered in this. I wouldn’t blame you if it shook you to your core. It still shakes me, every time when death has again robbed me, every time I lament, “If only I could have…” It’s Friday again, and I can’t see the resurrection from where I stand there. Will I believe this time, Martha? Will I believe, as you did, that exhausting everything that I am capable of doing or being, that God will still breathe life into these bones? Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the one who is now coming into the world. Is coming. Now. With life in your hand.

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About Pastor Betsy Williams

I am a mom. And a wife. And a Friend. And a homeowner. And a dog ...uh....owner? Actually make that two dogs. Two kids. One husband. I'm an ELCA Lutheran pastor of a beautiful downtown church. I am the third senior pastor in a century, so my 10-12 years here may feel like an interim to some of the folks here. Recently I have had no spare time. In my spare time in the future, my imagination inhabits a novel I am writing, The Funeral Preacher. My primary blog is a personal reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary...mostly: "Not All Who Wander are Lost." A few years ago I was on a team of writers who produced a little book for Augsburg Fortress in the Washed and Welcome series called "Living the Promises." It's 101 ideas for helping parents and godparents nurture their children in the faith of their baptism. I am developing another blog, more about worship at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Newark, Ohio and including a summary of the past week's preaching. Otherwise, I imagine myself to be a musician, liturgical artist, cook in a five star restaurant where the patrons keep ordering chicken nuggets, but never a bottle washer. I know how to delegate and share.
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