I wrote a couple of weeks ago in the Candle newsletter about how we lost my wife Andrea’s father, David, in late January. He died from a brain injury he sustained falling off a ladder while cleaning ice out of the gutters of their family home.
Andrea’s dad was a careful person and in good health. The gutters he was cleaning were on a one-story house. Dave even had someone below spotting for him while he was up there on the ladder.
Ninety-Nine times out of 100, a fall like the one that Dave experienced would have led to maybe a fractured bone, a bruised ego, and definitely some finger wagging about how we need to be careful when climbing on ladders. But there always is the 100th time, when everything goes just wrong in a tenth of a second and it can’t be undone.
In the time between Dave’s accident and his death, the prayer ministries of at least two entire churches (ours of course, and the Williams’ family church in Moline) were praying for healing. Dave got the best medical care at a university hospital that specialized in brain injuries. In the end, he just faded away from us anyway.
Even as a Christian and a pastor, I don’t know what exactly to say to this. It wasn’t time (at least our time) for Dave to die. He didn’t “deserve” it in some way. He wasn’t even being particularly foolish. Not to brag, but I have done dumber things than what led to his fall many, many times in my life.
The only scripture that really speaks to me about it right now is John 11, when Lazarus dies. You may remember this moment. Jesus hears that his friend, the brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. But instead of rushing off to heal him, Jesus “stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (v. 6).
By time that Jesus arrives at Mary and Martha’s home in Bethany, Lazarus is dead and buried. Martha goes to meet Jesus at the edge of town, but John says Mary didn’t. Mary remained seated in the house. I am probably reading too much into this, but it sure looks like Mary just doesn’t have it in her to face the man that failed to show up when he was needed. That is a feeling I understand right now in a new way. Martha does go out to meet him, though, and it seems part of the reason why is she does have something she wants to say to Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21).
Those are words I want to say to Jesus right now. Maybe they are words you have needed to say to Jesus at some point in your life as well. “Jesus, if only you had shown up on time!
Now, in John 11, Jesus weeps for his friend, Lazarus, and ultimately raises him from the dead. In the end, I know that Jesus weeps with us now, and will raise Dave up as well. That’s the promise. As Jesus says here in John 11, he is “the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). For Lazarus. For Dave. For all of us. I believe it. There is nothing else worth believing in this death-broken world. But right now, at this moment in our lives, Jesus hasn’t quite gotten here yet.
The waiting isn’t easy. Right now, I feel as though like Martha, I may have some things to say to Jesus when he shows up, too. At the same time, the hope I don’t let go of is that I am waiting for someone who is indeed on the way. I am waiting for Jesus who has the power to bring the dead to life.
Come, Lord Jesus.
The Rev. Peter Frank, rector