“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted…to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning…”
~Isaiah 61:1, 3
Mary of Bethany
Laughter, talk, and song sound from the front room where everyone else is gathered. Martha is in her element with fourteen hungry men to feed, bustling here and ordering there—though not nagging me like she used to. I think I know why.
I did help her earlier with the dinner preparations. But now I kneel alone in our sleeping room where I went to find the jar, cradling the cool surface of the alabaster between my hands, the sweet strength of the scent seeping through even while uncorked.
It’s hard to believe, seeing my brother so healthy and whole, what we were facing a few weeks ago. At first, I wasn’t so afraid—not like I would have been before we knew Jesus.
He would come, He would heal him. We sent for Him right away, knowing all we needed to say was that the one He loved—like He loves all of us—was sick.
But He didn’t come.
We sat by our brother’s bedside, Martha and I, and watched his fever rise and the sense drain from his head with the breath from his lungs. Two days—almost before I could believe he was so ill, he was gone.
We wrapped him and prepared him for burial, me tear-blinded, Martha with a terrible silence. Our friends and acquaintances came to help us lay him in the tomb and grieve our brother.
And still Jesus didn’t come.
As I sat in the stupor of grief four days later, hardly hearing the wailing around me, I couldn’t tell which hurt more—the loss of my brother, or knowing that the best Friend we had knew of our pain, and yet didn’t care enough to come and share it…or take it away.
I didn’t realize Martha had left the house until she came back and whispered in my ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”
He was here?
I jumped up, hardly knowing how my feet carried me out of the house and to the road where He waited with His disciples.
At the sight of His face the tears overwhelmed me again, crumbling me to the ground at His feet where I could only choke out, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
He didn’t say anything. All I could hear was my own weeping and the wailing of the other mourners who had followed me. A terrible sound that reached across all the griefs of the ages.
Then He bent and touched my shoulder. “Where have you laid him?”
I looked up. Tears stood in His dark eyes.
We led Him to the tomb. At the sight of the cave, sealed so irrevocably with the giant stone, I pressed my fists to my mouth.
Why, why hadn’t He come sooner?
At a rasping sob behind me, I swiped at my eyes and turned to see.
He was weeping. Jesus, our Lord and teacher, the One we knew to be the Christ, whatever our leaders thought…He wept, the tears rolling down into His beard.
Martha’s arm wrapped me close, and I clung to my sister.
Jesus stepped near, and together we wept, the three who loved Lazarus most.
He ignored the murmurs of the crowd around us, those saying that if He really loved Lazarus, He could have come and kept him from dying.
Instead, He squeezed our shoulders and said, “Remove the stone.”
That got Martha’s attention. She shook her head at Him. “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has…been dead four days.”
I’d lost count.
But He looked at her, then at me. And His words rang with that inimitable tone of one who knows what He speaks.
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
He stepped toward the tomb. Martha and I followed, clinging to each other’s hands.
The rolling of the stone…His prayer to His Father…the ringing, “Lazarus, come out!”
The breathless, trembling silence, then unbridled joy as he came, our brother, dusty and linen-bound, but warm and alive and well.
A couple of mourners fainted, but Martha and I ran straight into our brother’s arms. Just ahead of Jesus wrapping us all in His embrace together.
I looked into His face, as He laughed with tears still in His eyes, looking at us with something in His gaze I’d never seen before. as if He was seeing how He wanted all things to be…and yet as if some secret burden pierced His heart.
I looked over Lazarus’s linen-wrapped shoulder and saw a small clump of Pharisees muttering to one another as they moved away from our home. And a chill traveled through my happiness.
Tonight that same fear chills me, as I kneel here on the stone floor. Something is coming, I sense it, though I don’t know what. But it frightens me. More and more, I see our Messiah has come to stand against sin and death themselves.
And they will not give up easily.
I stand and brush the dust from my skirt, clasping the alabaster jar tight in my hands, then start toward the room where Jesus sits among His disciples, and my sister, and my brother.
I don’t know what is to come these days as He goes up to Jerusalem. But after tonight, at least I will know I have done what I could.
(Inspired by John 11 and 12. Originally posted Spring 2014.)