It is perhaps the most profound thing we ever face either the prospect of our own or the death of a loved one and as a journal noted:
People who are grieving will often report crying spells, some trouble sleeping, and lack of productivity at work. At first, you may find it hard to accept that the loss has actually occurred.
Once the initial shock has worn off, denial of the loss is often replaced by feelings of anger. The anger may be directed toward doctors and nurses, God, other loved ones, yourself, or even the person who has died. You may experience feelings of guilt, with sentiments such as “I should have… “, “I could have… “, or “I wish I had…. ”
Grief is a powerful emotion. It is painful and exhausting. Therefore, it sometimes seems easier to avoid confronting these feelings. However, this approach is not a viable long-term solution. Buried grief can manifest itself later as physical or emotional illness.
Today we mark a moment in our villages history when so many houses were racked with the grief at the loss of a loved one. And in that passage we meet that grief head on but it doesn’t stop there.
One lady wrote:
Death can make you question the good. It can make you wonder if there is someone somewhere keeping score. It can make you wonder why you were chosen, why your loved one was chosen. Why me? Why now? Why do bad things happen to good people? You’ll likely never get an answer, but you may always wonder. The thought always lingers there in the back of your mind. It can grow quieter with time, but on the days when you miss your loved one more than anything, it roars like a lion and you will want to roar right back. You may not have even thought you were capable of being a lion, but death has a way of changing you.
Today we will see that as Christians we live in the face of death with the hope of heaven.
So let’s set the scene in John 11 and to verse 1 Lazarus is ill and in verse 3 the sisters sent word to Jesus. And in verse 5 we see that Christ loved the family but in Verse 6 he stayed longer that expected. By verse 11 onwards the reality is that Lazarus is dead.
Now how far did Jesus have to go to get to Lazarus was it like a train journey from Kings Cross to Edinburgh? Well we know that the greek says that Bethany was 15 Stadia from where Jesus was in Jerusalem and one stadia was 202 yards and 9 inches so time that by fifteen and you get 1.75 miles about the same as from Sileby to Cossington.
Now we come to verses 17-37 and Jesus arriving at the home of Martha and Mary. They have been morning for three days and no that all hope is past for Lazarus. This is because we are past the first three days and this is significant because according to a Jewish belief, the soul stays near the body for three days after a person’s death: “For three days the soul hovers over the grave, contemplating a return to the body, but once it sees that the facial colour has faded, it goes away, never to return” (Gen. Rab. 50:10). That is, after 3 days from death the body is so decomposed that the face is not recognisable anymore
So Martha sets of to meet him and Mary stays at home and the cry from Martha echo’s down the centuries as R Kent Hughes reminds us in his commentary:
Where were you, Lord? You came too late. Where were you when my loved one died? Where were you when my marriage dissolved? Where were you when my parents divorced? Where were you when my father became an alcoholic? Where were you when I was cheated out of my promotion? Where were you when my child went astray?”
We could add when Walter Lovett or William Meadows or Alfred Middleton was shot by a sniper on Christmas day 1917.
When we face death that isn’t a wrong reaction as we see Jesus doesn’t start shouting or even politely telling Martha that she is in the wrong or faithless for asking the question. In facing death at whatever level we can be honest with God. So as Christian we are not called on to be stoical in the face of death and God understands whey we say this isn’t right and it hurts and I wish this wasn’t happening and why have you allowed this in my life God.
We see in David’s relationship with God it happens time and time again and one incident is after he sinned with Bathsheba:
And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died.
One writer put it this way:
If we avoid or cannot move through some sort of grief/mourning process we may:
- Stay stuck in anger, pain and resentment.
- Get stuck in numbness, the first stage in the grief process, we may lose access to important parts of our inner, feeling world.
- Have trouble engaging in new relationships because we are constantly emotionally and psychologically “reliving”; we’re preoccupied with a person or situation no longer present, we have not, in other words processed the loss and moved through it.
- Project unfelt, unresolved grief onto other relationships or situations, placing unfelt and unacknowledged feelings of hurt, pain and/resentment where they do not belong.
- Lose personal history along with the un-mourned person or situation; a part of us dies, too.
- Carry deep fears of subsequent abandonment, betrayal or disillusionment.
Although mourning carries the scent of darkness and pain, it is also a time- honoured path towards the light.
Now in verse 23 and 24 we see a confusion happening where Martha a good Jew says yes he will rise at the last day and that in response to Jesus promise that he will rise. But we know that Jesus is saying that he is Lord and will have the final say over death in the next bit of the story. And then we have the words read at every Anglican Funeral and they are breath-taking:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
What Jesus is saying here is that I am God and that if you come to Jesus and whoever believes that he is the saviour sent into the world to save sinner when the die they will live Now can this just mean we will rise again at the end I think Jesus is saying in effect when you believe in me you are in effect rescued and resurrected from the power of death. As Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 King James Version (KJV)
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s just understand this correctly we will pass through as one commentator puts it the incident of physical death, but we cannot die eternally. And Jesus says do you believe that and Martha confused but aware of who Jesus is says yes.
Mark Ashton wrote in his book “on my way to heaven;”
In the spring of 2007, while on sabbatical in New Zealand, I first had pains roughly in the area of the gallbladder, which led eventually to going into Addenbrooke’s Hospital in December 2008 to have the gallbladder removed. But when he went in to do so, the surgeon found cancer which had invaded the liver, originating in the gallbladder. It was past surgical solution and radiotherapy, and there was apparently no effective chemotherapy regime to cure gallbladder cancer. The oncologist estimated I might have six to nine months to live. My prayer when my mother died had been answered. I said to the surgeon when he broke the news, that what he had just told me was, for a Christian believer, not bad news but good; it was not the end of the story, but the beginning. (And I saw an imaginary speech bubble appear above his head, saying, “This man is in total denial!”)
Imagine that we might fear the process but the actual act of dying is a joy and when we loose a loved one whose in Christ what a joy that they have gone ahead of us to glory.
We ignore death and believe we can cheat it and put it off. In nearly every age group a recent survey showed the overwhelming reason people ignore death is that it is perceived as being a long way off. Even in the 75+ age group a quarter thing that and over half of my age people. We don’t need to ignore it or deny it we can celebrate it. A Christina funeral is all about triumphant glory. When my father died I was able to preach and Know that those glorious hymn words were true.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me
Then in verse 28 Martha goes off to fetch Mary and the party head for the house where all the professional mourners where and she gets up and everyone thinks she is heading towards death and the grave but she is heading towards life and hope in the form of Jesus. And in her pain and grief she just collapse before him and then we have verse 33 where Jesus is touched by Mary’s pain but there is an issue in our translation. The word here is EMBRIMAOMAI which was a word used to describe the snorting of a horse but when applied to a human Don Carson reminds us it is a way of speaking about anger and indignation and frustration. So why use that word here?
Jesus is frustrated that these people who know the fact that God has promised resurrection and acting as though there is no hope and Jesus is grieved to tear at this. But also jesus enters into the pain of the moment and is able to identify with the pain of loss. What a comfort that my Lord can feel my pain. Jesus will raise Lazarus so he weeps that there is death in creation and that Satan still seems to have a hold but that reality will soon end.
Today we remember death but it is not a great fear to the one who believes.
Now turn with me to Job 19 verse 25. Here is a man faced with terrible things ill health and the possibility of death he is ragged and broken in verse 23 he sees himself as the scroll brief and tempory and his words pass with him but he want what is about to say to stand the test of time so it must be carved in a rock.
Even in his death because he has stayed faithful no matter what the world things the great words of faith burst out of him and are used again so powerfully by Handel.
“I know that my redeemer lives”
My job as I die as Mark Ashton did is to find a way to magnify God in my dying.
Why is death a gain and win for the Christian?
Our spirits will be made perfect(Hebrews 12:22–23).
We will be relieved of the pain of this world(Luke 16:24–25).
We will be given profound rest in our souls(Revelation 6:9–11).
We will experience a deep at-homeness(2 Corinthians 5:8).
We will be with Christ
Be a bringer of hope and life in a dark death fearing world one lady wrote:
Sorry to write such a downer post but I’m terrified of dying! there is nothing wrong with my health etc but I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s usually in the night-time or when lying in bed and Things just come into my head like what will actually happen? And I will never see anyone again or be alive again it be the end of me! And who will look after kids I ll never see them or oh again or mum and dad etc I’m also scared of getting old and not being able to anything it just freaks me out to be honest I remember being like this when I was little(I think since my granddad died) and counting down years till my mum was old and getting upset(weird I know) I’m only 22 but already am thinking that I’m nearly 30 then 40 then 50 and so on.
As Christians we can live well and die well we have a message of hope to bring to a world haunted by its own mortality
We bring to the world a powerful God that in Christ conquered death and a listening God and a God that sympathises with us but it is only in Christ there is hope. Again, I quote from Mark’s booklet
There is no question about the savagery of death…. there is no more devastating human barrier in all of human experience than between the living and the dead. The soft soap and wishful thinking peddled by false prophets in the face of death that the loved one in just in the next room, that he looking down on us all the time, that she will be invisibly looking down on us at every family party are iniquitous……..
It is my relationship with Him (Christ) that can take me through death and which is the only hope of eternal life. He alone is the destroyer of death
And lets end life on earth here as Mark ended life on Earth crying “soon home.”