There is compassion in the pain

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The story of Lazarus is really striking a cord with me this morning. The story is written below.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.””

I think there is so much here to uncover. One, this really happened, and that alone is beautiful, but most of all I see the tenderness of Jesus so much in this story. I’m going to try to unpack all that I feel the Lord saying in this.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick and was going to die, he stayed where he was for two days. He didn’t immediately move to interfere with the sickness. He didn’t come to the rescue like they thought he would. He stayed where he was for two more days.

When I read that my mind takes me to Martha and Mary’s house. Martha is worried and Mary is probably assuring her that Jesus will be here at any moment. He loves them after all. He would never let Lazarus die. “I trust him” I can hear Mary say and she does, she trusts Jesus because she’s seen him heal before.

When Jesus finally enters their town, Bethany, Lazarus has been buried in his tomb for four days. Four.

Martha and Mary hear that Jesus is in town, Martha goes to him, Mary does not. “But Mary remained seated in the house”

This is when I start to get emotional. From previous stories we know Mary loves Jesus. We know her passion for him. The fact that Mary doesn’t run to Jesus immediately signals something wrong.

I can feel the disappointment that Mary is simmering in. I’ve felt that same disappointment. She was confident that Jesus would come and Lazarus would not die. When he didn’t come I think she began questioning if he really loved them. If he loved her he would have came, right? If he loved them Lazarus would be alive and this pain and disappointment wouldn’t be in the pit of her stomach. Surely Jesus didn’t want her to bury her only brother. Why didn’t he come? Where was he when she cried out for him?

Martha tells Jesus what Mary emphasizes later. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus talks to her about resurrection and life and believing in Him. Martha responds almost robotically. Yeah, Lord, I KNOW BUT……

Martha tells Mary that Jesus is asking for her, I can hear him ask it; Where is my Mary? Please, have her come to me. I think Jesus knows she’s hurt, I think he knows she’s disappointed.

When Mary hears that Jesus asks for her she runs to him. I love that. Sometimes in pain and disappointment and fear we just want Him to call us near. We want to trust that he sees us even if we are mad at him.

When Mary sees Jesus, she falls at his feet and cries “if you would have been here Lazarus would still be alive.”

How many times have we cried this out to God? WHERE WERE YOU? if you were here this wouldn’t have happened.

Jesus saw Mary and all the people caring for them crying and he was moved with compassion. Let’s remember that Jesus didn’t wait because he didn’t care. He waited because it was going to bring glory to God. Lazarus’s death was going to be a time where people saw God for who he was.

In the midst of Jesus knowing what was going to happen he cries. They take him to the tomb and he weeps.

Even when we don’t see his plan, even when we distrust him he comes close and is compassionate towards us. He enters into our pain even with his knowledge of what is to come for us.

While he’s crying the people that were with Mary and Martha say “couldn’t he have saved him? Why is he crying, if he opened the eyes of a blind man he could have saved Lazarus”

In times of despair there are voices around us ready to agree with our fear. If God was good why did he let this happen to you? If he was really God he would have stopped it.

All the while He’s choosing to feel your pain and weep next to you.

All this goes down and he tells Martha to open the tomb. Open it to your dead brother. Open the wound that feels too painful to see. He wants us to trust him with our pain because he’s about to do something incredible.

They open the tomb, and Jesus prays thanking God that he has heard him. He says

“I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”

He cried out with a loud voice “ LAZARUS COME OUT” and he did. He came out with linen strips bound around his feet and his face wrapped in cloth. He came out. He was ALIVE.

I believe sometimes God waits to respond to our crisis because he has something beautiful waiting afterwards. I believe that this life is not about us and what God can do for us, it’s about what we can do for Him. When he allows hard things to happen to us, it’s never because he doesn’t love us, it’s because he knows that he will be glorified, that people will hear your story and they will believe in him. He’s using you so that others may have hope.

When I read this story I see his grace all around. I see how gentle he is even when we accuse him of being absent. He looks at us with compassion and asks to see the tomb.

What has died in your life that you blame God for? What have you lost that he’s waiting to make beautiful, that he’s waiting to show you the miracle, and the purpose of the pain. Let’s invite him into the tomb friends, let’s let him unbind us and set us free.

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Theological thoughts on Thanksgiving from a Native perspective.

*I have asked one of my very best friends to write something in regards to Thanksgiving for my blog. This space is for open minds and open hands and I hope this blog is received in that way. Emily is an incredible woman who has shaped my faith in tremendous ways. Please take the time to read the words written by her below.*

“The first Thanksgiving Day did occur in the year 1637, but it was nothing like our Thanksgiving today. On that day the Massachusetts Colony Governor, John Winthrop, proclaimed such a “Thanksgiving” to celebrate the safe return of a band of heavily armed hunters, all colonial volunteers. They had just returned from their journey to what is now Mystic, Connecticut where they massacred 700 Pequot Indians. Seven hundred Indians – men, women and children – all murdered…This day is still remembered today, 373 years later. No, it’s been long forgotten by white people, by European Christians…A group calling themselves the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for what they say is a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember the long gone Pequot…
They do not call it Thanksgiving.
There is no football game afterward.”   
– The Huffington Post, 2011

(It should be noted that these colonial volunteers were actually puritans, not pilgrims, and the reason they set out in the early morning of May 26th was not to seek amiable relations among Native peoples; it was for the forced conversion to Christianity, as they knew it. It should also be noted that these seven hundred *Native Americans* laid down their defenses, and accepted. Their greeting into this new religion was massacare. This day also happened to be on the Pequot’s Green Corn Festival, in other words, their Day of Thanksgiving.)

How do I, a woman of Chippewa descent, interact with a holiday that has wrongly been painted as the end of our war with the White Man? How do I in unexplained terms share the history briefly with the person who asks: How do you feel about this? Moreover, how do I incorporate my living, breathing faith in Jesus into a nationally recognized day that really was only the beginning of harassment, abuse and mistreatment of my people? May you grant me the space and vulnerability to explain.

Firstly, let’s discuss what Thanksgiving is not. Thanksgiving is not the celebration of two heritages coming together. Though there were eager interactions at one point, the majority of Native Americans lived alongside re-settled Europeans for the sake of better protecting their land and keeping further inquiries about it at bay. The truth is – there were feasts together, where no one died and conversation was light. However, intent is almost always more important than action and it is clear, according to history and experience, the intent of Europeans settling on the shores of the United States from the time period of 1492-1900 was to take and colonize. The friendly relations, the regular trading, the invitation to dinner… They were all means to an end.
So, you have to understand when a person of Native descent hears ‘Thanksgiving’, they are really hearing: broken treaties, manipulated relationships, forgotten history and social exclusion (such as, marginalization). They were asked then forced to learn a language that was not their own, adapt to a dress they did not know and express spirituality in a way they did not understand, for the only purpose of colonists to feel comfortable and superior (in a place that was not theirs to begin with). These small yet significant acts of rape [to seize and take away by force] eventually led to boarding schools where children could not know the inheritance that was theirs to hand down. Colonization led to wars that could not be won and families moving across country simply because someone else wanted their land [see, Trail of Tears]. Now, the reality of all those things are buried under ‘Indian and Pilgrim’ dress-up days at elementary and your high school social studies class skipping over hundreds of years of history, to their convenience. To say the least, the day of Thanksgiving, for Native Peoples, is painful, deep and real.

Selah, to pause. Ok, keep reading.

Secondly, there is freedom to make this day worthy, notable and hopeful. While the above paragraphs are true, truer than most would admit, the presence of Creator in our story is true, too. Let me be the first to say, he was not pleased when these zhaagnaash (“white man”) tagged his name to their atrocities. He was not in their corner, cheering them on. Creator’s Son came and experienced ridicule, mockery and harassment; Jesus understands injustice. He gets being ripped from his culture of kingdom and being questioned by foreigners. He is not without compassion or sympathy when it comes to our losses; he is also not standing by idle.
The White Man’s god may push you around, disrespect your behaviors and leave you for dead. Jesus will not. The White Man’s god may solicit murders on behalf of innocent men, women and children. Jesus could not. The White Man’s god may make promises with the intent purpose of not keeping them. Jesus does not. Here is my point: Jesus is not the White Man’s god. Our greatest gift as believers of the Jesus way is the gift of the Great Spirit. And with the Great Spirit, there is hope. There is an assurance that we are not alone, that our voices do not go unheard and that redemption (the buying back of something previously sold) is possible.

Finally, there is a way forward. There is a way to acknowledge the truth of history and the reality of hope in Jesus. Here it is: We all live in tension. Every single human lives in a tension. Of joy and grief, or of loss and gain. Of expectancy and disappointment, or of provision and of lack. And let me tell you something: It’s not surprising to God. He – Creator God, Everlasting Counselor, Prince of Peace, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit – is not afraid to dwell there. In fact, often times, he makes his home right there in the middle of it. In the loss, Creator is bringing light. In pain, Creator is bringing perspective. In real anger over injustice, Creator creatively strategizes to bring unity, forgiveness and a better way. May we not miss him in the tensions. May we not overlook, or ignore the uncomfortable and hard. It is there, in those places, we will confess, and we will grow.  

This Thanksgiving, take time to consider what you’re celebrating + why. Take time to praise a Chief who fights on your behalf and is making all things new.

emilyselfie
Emily is on a journey of expressing her ethnic identify in faith and is passionate about sharing her experience with any who would have an ear to listen. She loves living in Atlanta, Georgia where she lives among refugees and cares for babies. In her free time, she likes weekend trips to New York City and a good cup of tea. Any inquires, encouragements or questions you may have, feel free to contact her: emnaganashe@gmail.com or follow her on instagram @emnaganashe