There are times when I can’t discern whether a piece of writing should remain in the vault of my private journal or be vulnerably shared with the world. This is one of those times. Though this exhortation was certainly intended for me, I feel a sneaking suspicion it might be for you, as well. So, I’m opening up my journal.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the story of Lazarus, in case you haven’t heard it:
He was sick; like, really sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, contacted Jesus to come quickly (they knew he could heal the sick). Jesus got the news and took his time. Lazarus died (umm, what?!). His body was prepared for burial and placed in a tomb. Jesus finally showed up days later. The sisters were upset (and, maybe, really freaking mad?) that he hadn’t come in time to heal Lazarus. When Jesus arrived, they had already said a final good-bye to their brother. They were already grieving. They had already lost all hope for his healing. It was over. Or so they thought.
They didn’t fully understand that Jesus isn’t only the healer. He’s the resurrector.
What have you declared dead, wrapped in burial clothes and placed in a grave? Perhaps it’s a dream that wasn’t fulfilled like you’d thought and so you’ve set it adrift. Maybe you’ve been praying for years that God would rescue you from addiction or chronic illness—and it seems so many years have been wasted. Did God speak a word of promise, but now you’re questioning “did God really say…?” It may be that there is a relationship in your life, like a marriage, that has been wasting away—it has been on death’s doorstep for so long, or has maybe ended, even though the piece of paper still says otherwise.
The story of Lazarus is a shot of adrenaline into a failing heart. You see, the story of Lazarus isn’t just about Jesus raising a physical body from the dead. Yes, I believe he can do that, too, but it’s also a story about speaking life to things that are dead. Like really dead. Too far gone dead. Stinking dead. Impossible dead. Grieved and over dead.
I feel strongly today that some of us may need to roll back the stone and have a look inside our tombs. What has died for you? Not because you wished it dead and not because it was left untended or neglected; but because the circumstances didn’t change, the timeline ran out, the miracle didn’t come.
It’s terrifying to enter those dark places of disappointment; to willingly re-visit hopes and dreams that have faded into non-existence or to re-open those deaths already grieved.
When I summon my courage, roll back the stone and enter my own tomb, I observe several hopes, dreams and plans wrapped in burial clothes. Some of the plans died a natural death. Some of the hopes and dreams that died needed to die. They had their origin in my own ideas and ambitions.
In my younger years, I dreamed of auditioning for Broadway musicals. I was going to arrive at a cattle call and have the casting producers realize they’d found their new lead girl…Eponine or Kim or Mimi. I’ve performed in a number of local musical theatre productions in the past, and hope to again, but the unrealistic Broadway dream has drifted on by. And it’s really okay. I have chosen a life here with my family (and let’s be honest, I wasn’t going to make it past the first cut, anyway—also problematic is that I am not the correct ethnicity for many of the roles I desired).
These dreams fade or alter with relative ease. We grow older, we mature, we determine who we really are. Though we might experience regret or loss, wishing things had played out differently, we can also be pragmatic in our analysis; able to understand (and possibly even appreciate) why the particular thing didn’t happen. They are light things, easily blown around and carried away like dry leaves.
But, my friends, there are other promises and dreams that don’t die easily. They are weighty, deeply buried, substantial things. You know the ones I mean. The ones that we struggle to release. That we cannot seem to get over. That maybe we shouldn’t get over. But because they didn’t get fulfilled according to our timeline—because Jesus didn’t show up when we thought he would have done or should have done—we declare it over. We didn’t want to let it go, but by all human accounts, it was very obviously dead. So we buried it.
These are the longings, the plans, the promises that were placed in our DNA when God designed us; when our body and person were formed. And even though we’ve declared some of these things dead, God views it differently. If we can be brave enough to re-enter the tomb, he’ll highlight the ones that are active and living, even though our natural eyes may not perceive it.
Jesus isn’t restricted by our timelines. Jesus isn’t bound by our natural laws. Jesus isn’t inhibited by dead things. He doesn’t look at your dream or your situation and say “Argh—I should have got here sooner. Darn it…sorry about that!”
Romans 4 talks about the “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” I love this! It doesn’t become harder for him to restore and redeem and renew once something has died.
When he doesn’t respond according to our preferred timeline, it’s not because he doesn’t care for us or that he has no intention of keeping his word. It’s because he sees the larger story. He authored it.
When Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha, four days after Lazarus had died, the sisters were understandably upset. Jesus says to them, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11.25)
He is asking us the same question: “Do you believe this?” Yes, Lord. I believe it. I believe that you will breathe life into things that I have laid to rest; dreams that have fallen asleep in the waiting. I believe you will call things that are not as though they are. I believe.
The miracle is not late. He has not let us down. If he has spoken it, he will fulfill it. He does not take back his word. The resurrection comes at exactly the right time. Oh, how I need to hear this today.
Death cannot hold him.
You came; I knew that you would come.
You sang and my heart it woke up.
I’m not afraid, I see your face, I am alive.
You came; I knew that you would come.”
“Lazarus (You Came)” by Jonathon & Melissa Helser