I’m beginning to appreciate just how messy practising resurrection can be. When we experience personally the transition from death to life it is often challenging. A ‘death’ (not just a physically one but also of our hopes, expectations, relationships, jobs, or dreams) can be painful and frustrating. Resurrection holds out the hope that the end of one season is really the birthing of the new so that death and re birth are interlocked.
Yesterday I was remembering the times I gave birth to our children. I remembered sitting with my precious Grandmother sharing the exciting news I was pregnant and I didn’t get the reaction I thought. Her concerned face prompted a retelling of her own transition to motherhood. She had honestly thought that after watching her belly grow the time would come when her child would just pop out through her belly button. She was horrified by the whole process as it wasn’t till she went into labour that the penny dropped that birthing something new happened very differently! You might not be surprised to hear my mother is an only child….
If our expectation is that new resurrected life just appears- poof, and it’s arrived – then we’ve misunderstood how God works with us and in us. Realistically it can be fraught with challenges, pain and frustration but I want to understand how God makes it happen and embrace the process. Because there is something to ‘go through’ in order for God to enlarge us to receive something new. So here’s what I ‘m learning:
God knows what’s happening. When Lazarus dies John 11 v 4 says Jesus ‘heard’. He was aware that Thomas had expressed his need to see the hands and feet of Jesus in order to believe (John 20 v 25). He knew where to find the other disciples who were hiding in fear in a locked room.(John 20 v 19)
He’s glad about it. (John 11 v 14) Now I’m not saying Jesus is happy about us being confused or enjoying watching us squirm in suffering. I am saying that Jesus is the beginning and the end. He sees what will come of it all and is working ALL things together for our good. I am saying that Jesus knows the whole story and that it will end well. He is glad for our sakes because there is now an opportunity to display God’s glory: for our faith to be enlarged so that we can see, believe and understand.
He loves us in and through it. (John 11 v 4) Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. this isn’t a generic ‘God loves the world umbrella’ It’s all 3 of them mentioned specifically by name. God’s care for us is personal. Meeting Mary and calling her by name; ‘Peace to you’ being the first greeting; helping them succeed at casting fish; or taking the time to listen to Cleophas explain how he understands the crucifixion are all examples of Jesus demonstrating His love.
We can expect an apparent delay Jesus waited 2 days before setting out for Bethany to visit Lazarus tomb and he was dead 4 days before He got there. It was a week before Thomas touched His resurrected body. Cleophas had been 3 days travelling home. But I use apparent delay because I’m beginning to understand that it……
creates space for something new. The time between the ‘death’ and Jesus arriving has given us space to take in what’s happened. There is space for us to feel empty and a sense of lack. I don’t think this has to be a negative thing. It’s the stretching we need to realise we need something new. It’s the emptying of what we have known that no longer satisfies us that creates a space to be filled. There is a gap now that we can’t do anything about but only Jesus can. The yearning of dissatisfaction in the way it is, is a yearning for Life to return. The ache is our spirit praying for a reality of God to break in.
- It’s not just about you Other people rather than the person who is experiencing the transition are affected and enlarged too. Lazarus died but the disciples, Mary, Martha, the other mourners, the City officials and the town have to make sense and space for the changes also. There is a multiplication of what God is doing in you that overflows into others. Cleophas changed direction and returned to Jersulaem; Mary is told to go and tell; Peter is told to feed my sheep; the Bride of Christ is born in Acts when 3000 experiences the truth of resurrection.
He has compassion. The delay is full of compassion to allow us to have our moment to process. It’s a time that Jesus gives us to feel the loss and what we would do about it. In terms of culture it was traditional for close family to mourn with others for 3-4 days before washing, dressing and eating again. Jesus honours our processes but again it’s a time when the enlarging of our spirits and souls happens. After all of our fixing of thinks we realise we need a bit more. Simon Peter returns to his old life of fishing producing an unsuccessful night. Yet Jesus intervenes and the nets are full. I see grace in helping this disciple even in the ‘old way’ as a door way into the true identity and destiny Jesus has for Peter. I love the verse that says Jesus wept. why does He cry? He knew He was going to raise Lazarus. As he approaches the tomb He’s already planned what to say and do yet He kneels with Mary and weeps with her. I see huge compassion here- a coming alongside and suffering with. I see the dignity Jesus gives her to express her sorrow and joins in to honour that moment. Tears are important to God: scripture tells us He sees them (Isaiah 38 5); He collects them in a bottle (psalm 56 v8); He wipes them away (rev. 7 v 17); but transforms them into joy (psalm 125 v 5)
He draws attention to the Father and Himself. At the moment of resurrection Jesus takes our eyes of ourselves and on to God. At Lazarus tomb He prays and gives thanks to the Father who sent Him and talks about the glory of God. At His own tomb when talking to Mary He talks about ‘My Father and your father, My God and Your God.’ With Cleophas he opens up the scriptures and explain about entering into Glory. With Simon Peter He encourages him to ‘follow me’. focusing on who Jesus is nad our relationship with Him is key to unlocking the future.
The point is new life can be a struggle getting here -a roller coaster of emotions, fear and confusion as the process doesn’t look or feel pleasant but is good if we see it from God’s perspective. My own experience of our first daughter’s birth was a difficult one. I was admitted to hospital 6 weeks before she was due because of lack of movement. Her heart beat couldn’t be detected and I was induced and it looked like it was going to be a stillbirth. I remember it vividly especially the last hour. I refused pain relief, in denial it was all happening, as the contractions quickened I fought the pain and refused to push wanting the pregnancy and my experience of motherhood to remain. The room filled with midwives and doctors urging me on and supporting until one of them told me to ‘stop fighting it – you’re safe’ I tried so hard to relax and go with the contractions, just focusing on my husband’s voice to breath in and out. The father of this child completely willing me on. Just at the moment when I thought my whole body would burst, out she came. She was the most beautiful baby with big eyes and breathing. She didn’t cry and was so calm and kind of looked at us as if to say ‘what’s the fuss?’ She’s 24 and has and continues to be a delight. I’m mindful in our case of the verse that says, ‘does God bring to the point of birth and not deliver?’
There are promises God has given us and many of us are in the process of experiencing death and like nothing is going to come of them. The end seems the end. I’m encouraged by God and scripture that this is the very point God bursts in and creates resurrection. Darkest before the dawn and all that…The often uncomfortable stretching we are going through is the space God is making to fill us afresh. So I suppose I’m saying that when we are about to experience resurrection, that is birthing new life, don’t be unprepared like my grandmother was!! The yearning and ache we feel is positive and enlarging us. It takes time to create a space that God can come and fill so be patient with God and yourself. So often there is a committee in our own heads with minutes from their meeting detailing how we should have more faith, believe more, understood this by now, and an AOB note of condemnation and doubt. This shows me we can tell them loudly and clearly pack up and move out – the meeting is adjourned. The stretching of our capacity is with the full assurance that Jesus knows what’s happening, His love is foundational and His compassion is with us. The outcome will end well with a breakthrough for many because Jesus and God’s glory is about to be birthed. The end is just the beginning.