A creative retelling of John chapter 11, verses 1-45
They were a tight-knit family. For reasons we are not privy to, none of them had married, so the two sisters and brother still lived under the same roof, content with their own company. Little did they realise that their world was about to be shattered.
It started innocuously enough. A slight fever, a feeling of sickness. Martha prepared the meals as usual, but was worried to see her brother barely touching his food. Mary fretted. As the days passed, Lazarus grew weaker. Mary lovingly wiped his hot forehead; Martha prepared a light stew to coax him to eat.
As Lazarus tossed and turned on his bed in an uneasy, feverish sleep, the two sisters sat close to each other, whispering in the corner. Their anxiety was palpable; their efforts were not bringing any results. “We’ll send a message to Jesus,” they decided. “Surely He will help. He loves Lazarus.”
When the message reached Jesus his followers were surprised that, considering how much he cared for this family, he did not immediately set off for Bethany. It wasn’t until two days later that he started out on the journey.
Meanwhile, Mary and Martha felt as though the bottom had fallen out of their lives. They had watched helplessly as their brother’s life had ebbed away. They clutched at each other and wept as he took his last feeble breath. Wrapped in a shroud, his body, cold and stiff with death, was laid in a tomb.
The two sisters sat despondently in their home. It did not seem real. Sometimes they cried bitterly; other moments they were silent, struggling to assimilate their loss. Neither sister voiced these thoughts, but both questioned, why hadn’t Jesus come to their aid? He had healed so many others, why hadn’t he healed their brother?
Neighbours, relatives and members of the local synagogue gathered at their house, offering them comfort, bringing them food. While they appreciated all of this, it wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted their brother back! Their hearts ached at this untimely loss.
Word came that Jesus was finally on the way. Mary sat, unmoved; the feeling of desertion was too great. But Martha, ever the more assertive of the two sisters, was determined to face him. Her first words on meeting him were a challenge, but also an expression of faith: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."
The conversation that ensued was remarkable.
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
A seed of hope was planted in Martha’s heart. She returned to call out Mary privately. They went together to see Jesus.
Mary’s first words, like Martha’s, indicate the depth of desertion she felt:
"Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
Jesus, the son of man, wept. The two sisters knew he cared, he truly cared. Whatever they had felt up until that point, his compassion washed over their souls as a warm tide, bringing a measure of peace that they had not anticipated feeling again. Although their brother was dead, God was love, and it was his love they felt at that moment.
They were not expecting what happened next.
The tomb was a cave with a stone at the entrance. Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away. Martha, with her usual practical sense, knew that in the four days since Lazarus had died, his body would have already started to decompose. Taking away the stone would expose them to a foul stench.
But moments later, with the stone moved away, a gripping prayer by Jesus to God the Father, and a loud instruction to Lazarus to “come out”, Lazarus came walking out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave-clothes.
We can barely imagine the utter joy, the flood of relief, the exuberance of the two sisters. Their brother had been restored to life.
Here I sit, almost two thousand years later. Like Mary and Martha, I too am bereaved at the untimely passing of a very dear loved one. Like the two sisters, I sit weeping, disbelieving, aching. I too sometimes feel deserted. But I haven’t been. Jesus wept. He cares. He is aware of the passing of time; He is aware of the pain. Our loved ones are resting in his love; we can too. No matter our weakness, his love is the strength to live another day. No matter our sorrow, we are never deserted. No matter our circumstances, his promise holds true: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”1
1 Hebrews 13:5
(c) Abi May 2012