Today's message comes out of our Sunday reading for this week: John 11:17-44 - the raising of Lazarus. You can read it here.
There are also prayers for your use at home. You can read about them here.
The Raising of Lazarus
There is no escaping that our lives have been turned upsidedown over the past few weeks. Now largely confined to our homes, we are grieving the loss of the many activities that we thought made up our lives: picking up grandchildren from school, sitting in cafes with friends, endless work meetings, chatting to neighbours, driving up and down the highway. Some of us have lost income and livelihood for the time being, and that brings about challenges and difficult decisions. We have been separated physically from family, friends, neighbours and our communities. We have watched friends struggle and fail. We are watching with both apprehension and astonishment the march of COVID-19 through countries like Italy, Spain and the United States. We are comprehending graphs of confirmed cases and deaths that continue to climb steeper and steeper.
There is a surrealness to what is happening. I never thought life would be pared back to the very basics like this in our lifetime. But at the same time, never before has our global connectedness to each other been laid so bare. Never before has the simplicity of life been so available to rest in.
I had a conversation this week with someone who lived through the blitz in London during the Second World War. They spoke of the similarities between living in England during the war what we are experiencing now. Words I never thought I would hear. It's like the war without the bombs and bullets.
Our leaders are not mincing words about the fear they have for the world's people.
Images of young people collapsing in the streets of Jakarta struck me deeply this week. They reminded of the words of American psychologist and contemplative theologian, James Finley a few years ago. He said:
"we can be traumatised by the trauma of others."
How right he is at this moment.
From a psychological perspective, trauma is the loss of the boundary or anchor that protects us from harm to our self. It is powerlessness or loss of control. But sometimes this is not a bad thing. If we let it, it can be transformed into genuine empathy—an outpouring towards the other. If we take it a step further, this can bring life into raw focus. It can lead us into genuine loving action.
When Jesus saw Mary and the other weeping for Lazarus, he was moved to tears. He let their trauma of the loss of their brother and neighbour move him to empathy and love for those around him. Wholly focused on those around him and his love for Lazarus, Jesus then transforms that grief into action. He asks them to show him where Lazarus was laid, and he raises him to a new, resurrected life.
The key here is prayer - to pivot from empathy and grief to action and raising Lazareth; he prays:
"Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." John 11:41-42
Now our prayer will probably sound very different from Jesus', and it will be different for each one of us. Still, it should be one of grounding and focusing on the presence of God in our lives, on the transforming power of Christ in all things and on the rawness of life as we currently know it. Recently I have been drawn to the prayer that I use in the opening of funerals:
Loving God, you alone are the source of life. May your life-giving Spirit flow through us, and fill us with compassion, one for another. In our sorrow, give us the calm of your peace. Kindle our hope, and let our grief give way to joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As a prayer, I love that it invokes the flowing and dynamic divine presence in a time of trauma and upheaval. It is grounded in God as the locus of all life. It connects us to the flow of the life-giving Holy Spirit in us. It calls on God to give us peace, hope and joy in this time. And is sets all this in the cradle of the Christ mystery that connects us all...globally.
With Jesus as the example, we can let the trauma of the world be transformed into acts of kindness, love, generosity and gratitude. If we can do this, the world will be all the better for it on the other side.
It doesn't have to be grand acts of public action. Starting campaigns in support of those most affected by the virus. It can be as simple as sitting down with loved ones at home and telling them how much they matter to you. It can be as simple as putting up a message of hope in the main street as one kid has in Ballan. It can be as simple as praying for the commital of those who are dying alone into God's loving care each day in silence.
This global tragedy has the power to make us a better humanity. To be more closely made in the image of God; the God of love and mercy.
In the words of Rob Bell: "Love always wins."
The Lord be with you!