Who in the world has not told the Lord, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died?” I tell God this all the time. My brother dies at the age of 57, where are you, Lord? Last week, we find out that my dad has cancer. Lord, where are you? I know you ask this same question. Your husband goes in for surgery and he dies from a blood disease. You get a phone call only to hear that your child dies suddenly, or, that your son has a stroke. “Lord, where in the hell are you when these things happen?”
How can we begin to answer this question? We can look to this Gospel (the raising of Lazarus in John) to find out what Jesus does when he encounters a crisis. What does he do when his friend dies? He cries. Then, he gets perturbed. Then, he is disturbed. Those words really mean, “to snort with anger.” Twice when they tell him the news that Lazarus is dead and when they show him the tomb, Jesus snorts with anger. Jesus is angry at death, and decides that it does not have the last word. Notice that Jesus channels his righteous anger into prayer and action. The Father hears his Son’s prayer and Jesus raises his friend from the dead. Notice also that Jesus does not go into the tomb nor does he unwrap his friend, Lazarus. In the words of an early Christian writer, the Lord asks the Church to “Untie him and let him go…” back into the community of believers. This is how cancer walks begin. This is how water bucket challenges start. This is how people form organizations that raise money that fight MS, cancer, ALS…the list is endless.
So where is the Lord when crisis hits? I find the Lord in the support I receive from the Church. When I announce on FACEBOOK, “Please pray for my father who has esophageal cancer,” Eric calls me to tell me that he has the same cancer. John calls me to tell me that his father, his uncle, and his grandfather died from it. It is the Church who responds. They help untie me and they tell me to go and fight it. I do not believe that God sends cancer. I do not believe that God sends any disease to test us like puppets on strings. Jesus does not allow death and the tomb to conquer either him or his friends. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” We Christians are people of the resurrection, according to St. Paul. What my father needs now from me, what my friends with MS and other debilitating diseases need are words of resurrection and life.
At this Eucharist, it is ok to be angry at death, at cancer, at a stroke, at MS and at all those crises that affect our lives. Jesus demonstrates to us that righteous anger gets things done and he asks us to untie those still wrapped in burial clothes.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
5th Sunday of Lent
In Memory of Brian P. Franks