He was sitting on the front pew, crumpled over in a heap, like one of those college basketball players writhing on the court because his team has just lost a game in the Final Four.
Only this young man had not just lost a game. He had lost his mother. She had been killed in a car accident that morning as she drove to church — the church I pastor.
I knew her well; a good, godly woman.
I had just concluded the service with prayer when a parishioner whispered, “I think you might be needed over there.” That’s when I saw him, the son of the lady who had just died. I didn’t know of her death until he spewed the words in between gasps, “My…mother…just…died.”
He had come into the worship service as I was completing my sermon about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
“I heard a little of what you said,” he told me as I tried to console him.
How do you listen to even a teensy bit of a sermon when your mother has suddenly died?
You do when your insides feel like they are about to cave in and you can’t catch your breath; when you are desperate to hear something, anything that might offer a glimmer of hope (even if you have no clue what that hope is), when you are grasping for a word that might begin to answer the question — you know the question, the one bubbling up deep within you, passing uncontrollably from your lungs to your throat, erupting in a voice that has no voice, a voice you don’t recognize as your own because it’s silent and can only be felt, not heard - the question you fear has no answer, but you know you must ask anyway, for you somehow know that if you don’t ask, there is no possibility of receiving even a morsel of bread, a tangible word that will wrap itself around your soul like a warm blanket on a cold, lonely night, giving you a reason to carry on in the absence, the emptiness, the darkness, even if that word is nothing more than a glint, an inkling, a spark - a mere flickering menorah lighting your way out of the shadows to the eternal present that seems in that moment to be the eternal absent.
And so you ask.
And in asking, you shake and bow your head, for you know the answer is the mystery of the universe and the whirlwind therein.
Encapsulated in the why is the how; you must face it, after all.
How do you go on in this in between time, the four days Lazarus lay in the tomb, the time before Jesus, tardy by choice, showed up - and is late, too late - at least from our view of the matter?
We are stuck in these four days, for we too wait for Jesus to arrive.
Wringing our hands, pacing back and forth, peering into the horizon, we ask, “Where is he? Why doesn’t he show?”
If only he had been there to direct the car away from that tree, the crunch of the metal would have been averted, and life preserved.
With my arm around the young man, I pull him in and feel his body weep uncontrollably, convulsing under the weight of his loss.
After he arrived four days too late to save Lazarus from death, the scripture says Jesus was “deeply moved.” One Bible scholar notes that those two English words describing Jesus are one word in Greek, and used to describe a horse snorting. Jesus felt it; he entered into our pain, taking it upon himself.
We live between the now of incompleteness and the then of redemption.
Holy week is about waiting, anticipating - and it’s not easy.
“How long until Easter,” we cry.
But we are not alone. The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, in one sentence, summarized this four-day period where we, like Martha and Mary, wait on Jesus. It’s the time between the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday; it’s the span of our lives, of human history. “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him,” Moltmann said.
We may weep now, but make no doubt about it, Easter is not far away.
Even now the dawn is breaking, the son is rising, the day is approaching.
It’s almost time to laugh.