As I sat in the hard wooden pew, enjoying its solid familiarity and reassuring simplicity, I listened to the preacher talk about the swirl of events that ran unchecked during the last several days before Jesus met death face to face on the backside of the Cross.
I heard him tell of Jesus warning everyone around Him that He was going to the place of the skull, to get a death-grip on suffering and never let go, and then to eat it…all. I heard him tell of how Jesus warned that anyone who wanted to be His friend had to come with Him, had to see, had to get a belly-ache too…
…and I was off in my thoughts, back, back back to those days and I heard the sounds of cattle and crowds, tasted heat and dust and slid sideways through the slant orange light from a beating throbbing insistent sun.
I was in the house of Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus their sickly brother, and Mama was telling me that these were the very best friends of Jesus.
They had chosen Him…they liked Him…as a person. His humor and tenderness, His wrestle with being called a bastard His entire life when He was more True-Son than any of us, back then anyway. Now? Well the Adoption Agency is open for business…but that story is presaged by this one…this story of what it was like being friends with Jesus.
Jesus always was about another story, in everything He did. Each encounter, each miracle, each glance was full of metaphor and creative import, was a beam or a brick in this House that He began then and is still working on even now.
So He is befriended by these…perhaps parents long lost to death and tragedy…and He has decided that it will be His closest friends that He will entrust His priceless gift to: the understanding of Resurrection.
You realize, don’t you, that understanding a thing means knowing its front and its back, and it by definition means knowing what that thing is not. So let’s recall what happened to these, the best friends of the Shepherd.
One of them becomes very sick…Lazarus…who was never that strong anyway. He had to live with his sisters, one of whom was of a strength so as to make Patton seem like Gomer Pyle, and one of whom was gifted with such sight as to make Joan of Arc seem like Helen Keller.
Formidable…and in that patriarchy, a sick and weak man who had to be cared for by his sisters was held in contempt and thought to be of no consequence…except to Jesus. To Him, this family was the one that would together take that voyage across the river Styx…and back again.
The sisters immediately send word. Martha marshals forces and gets the message to Jesus faster than the telegraph that would come along centuries later…and Mary sends word thru the heart currents which brought the knowing immediately to Jesus and added such sorrow to His already increasingly agonizing heart.
And Jesus, knowing the Father was doing a work of instruction, answered to everyone in earshot that they would tarry where they were. Which shocked everyone, for it was well known that Jesus had a deep affection for the weak and unadmirable Lazarus (which of course made them all even more leery of this odd carpenter!), and everyone figured He would fold space and high tail it up to Bethany to heal His friend.
But He waited.
And everyone wondered if there had been a falling out…in fact Martha was certain that Jesus was angry with her…and Mary was certain that Jesus was disappointed in her…and Lazarus, well, he felt like Jesus’ companionship was good while it lasted but was too good to be true.
But inside Himself, Jesus ached for His Beloved True Friends. Because He was going to use them to make a bigger point…and it was going to break their Hearts…so they could be healed even stronger.
One day passed by, and He waited (foreshadowing another dark day coming).
The next day came and went (and the second day was prophesied of then).
And on the third day, the sun rose and dawn fell flat on her face in the silent still absurdity of an absent best friend (just to be sure that the coming 3rd day would stand in stark contrast).
Oh there was still hubbub and the frothy surface dwellers all held out hope like icing called dinner…but Jesus was not having any of that either!
“Lazarus is dead.” He said this…flatly, tonelessly. Expressionless…like the voice of the grave itself.
And then He started His journey to their house…to face them. To face their agony, their confusion. To face their betrayal and let down. To face the accusations hidden in their bewilderment about His absence.
Constance…I refer you to John 11 when you are done reading this post, for there are a few things He said that are vertical things that stretch from the bottom of beneath eternity to the top of the beyond eternity. They are worth contemplating for a year or two…but stay with me here…
…because to everyone else around Him it just sounded like Wwah Wwah Wwah and Yadda Yadda Yadda…even to Himself, His human ears, it sounded thus.
He spoke in faith.
And then He had to face Martha Patton…and then Mary Arc…and Mary said to Him, with my voice, your voice, the voice of Rachael in Rama… “Lord, where were You?”.
And He wept. Bitterly. Deeply.
Why? Because His lesson was manifest now…on the fourth day since Lazarus had died…one more day than The Third Day…and the very first day beyond that Third Day which was the first day of a forever separation from their beloved brother for His surviving besties Martha and Mary.
And then He called Lazarus forward from death, back across the river, back to the land of the living and the loving arms of his sisters…and his True Friend as well.
All around Him, people marvelled, rejoiced, and then wept in relief and reunion and resurrection.
But Jesus? He still wept in sorrow, for He knew the full weight of the pain He had knowingly inflicted on His best friends…He knew the looming agony that was fast falling towards Him, and He knew that He had no shield against it, no weapon to fight it with, only faith in His Father for Whom He had embraced this Mission Impossible, and that promise that Father would bring everything out of death with this Obedient Son.
Jesus wept because He knows that He does His friends dirty because He can trust them to see it thru to the end, past Friday and into Sunday. It hurts Him that it hurts them…it hurts Him that He does it anyway because it is the Ultimate Good and overarching Impartation of Eternity…thru broken hearts and broken spirits.
I came back to myself, and the sermon was drawing to a close. I had a fresh perspective on my life, my agonies, and the lessons that have been shown forth.
I think I am going to continue, seeking to be a friend of God. Because everyone has sorrow and trial, everyone goes thru meaningless suffering and horror…but it seems the friends of God get to have the Presence of God with them midst the fires of pain’s crucible, and the Kingdom is birthed.