I sat with my grandmother in the hospital toward the end of her life, miserable to think that she would soon be gone. As was typical with her, she was the one comforting me. At 22, I couldn’t imagine life after anybody’s death . . . but she could.
“But God, Sarah,” she said. “…but God! No matter how black the picture looks: never forget. God is able to bring light out of darkness. He IS light. And there is life on the other side of the darkness.”
Grandma had me turn to the back of her Bible, where there were two lists. One was headed “BUT GOD” and the other, “GOD IS ABLE.” Underneath she had written all the Bible verses she had found over the years that contained those words. Then without looking, she began to quote them to me and explain what they tell us about God. Here are some I remember:
—“My flesh and my heart may fail, BUT GOD is the strength of my heart” (Psalm 73:26).
—”…we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. BUT GOD, who comforts the downcast, comforted us…” (2 Corinthians 7:5b-6)
—I cannot see him. BUT [GOD] knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:9b-10) — and so on.
“GOD IS ABLE”
—”GOD IS ABLE to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
“And Sarah,” she concluded, “‘GOD IS ABLE to make all grace abound toward you’ (2 Corinthians 9:8). What kind of grace do you need today?” Grandma took my hand and began to pray that the Lord would be with me through the dark time we were entering, and give me comfort and light.
THE RAISING OF LAZARUS
I remember that day as I read in John’s gospel of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). Two sisters are grieving over a double sadness: their brother has died and their friend who was able to help, did not.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both Martha (vs. 21) and Mary (vs. 32) say the same thing when they see Jesus, but they each mean something very different.
JESUS AFFIRMS THEM BOTH
I love how Jesus affirms them both and brings them to deeper faith in the process.
For Martha, what might sound like an accusation is actually a statement of faith that leads her to hope: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” She struggles to understand what Jesus means when he says Lazarus will rise and that those who believe in him will never die. But her faith is foremost and it seeks understanding. She comes to a conclusion that is matched only by Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16. “Yes, Lord,” she says. “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
I see an echo of Martha in my Grandma, facing death with her affirmation of faith: “But God!”
I, on the other hand, was much more like Mary, dissolving in grief. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she cries from the ground where she has fallen in tears. “WHY???” You can hear the unspoken question, and her certainty that it is too late. She knows Jesus can heal, but not that he’s “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25). She can’t yet see beyond the grave.
Jesus is “perturbed and deeply troubled” — perhaps at the tragedy of death, perhaps at her grief or unbelief — and he sets out for the tomb amid murmured criticism at his lack of action.
“…BUT GOD!” “HE IS ABLE!”
I wish I could have seen their faces, Martha at a loss for words and Mary smiling through her tears, as Lazarus rose and stumbled out into the light. I remember Grandma: “No matter how black the picture looks, never forget: But God!” And never forget: “He is able!” Not even death can hold the Lord or defeat his plans. Not even death can sink us if we have faith. There is life beyond the tomb.
© 2017 Sarah Christmyer
+ + + + + + +
Read this gospel in conjunction with the readings paired with it for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130 with the response, “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption;” and Romans 8:8-11. And rejoice!
+ + + + + + +
Join me in a conversation about the Sunday readings of Lent: friend and message me on facebook and ask to join the group “40 Days in the Bible.”
Download my free reading plan and checklist and reflect on the Lenten Sunday readings throughout the following week. You’ll find instructions and a free download here.
You may also like these related posts: