Lazarus died twice. Think of it. After Jesus called him from the grave and his life went on, do you think he worried less about the next death that he would inevitably face? Maybe his subsequent obituary read, “It was not so bad the second time around.”
I am reminded of a story from my life. Mabel was 8 and we were at a hotel pool. I was lingering on the side of the pool shivering in my swimsuit. I was putting off the inevitable as I tested the water with my toe and confirmed I was not going to get warmer if I got it. Mabel was already in the pool dancing around in delight cheered me to jump in. Like all kids she wanted me to jump in and join her play and happiness. Instead I was reticent. Impatient, Mabel finally chose philosophy to motivate me, “Come on mom, worry makes you suffer twice.”
During the pandemic which has changed our lives so dramatically, Mabel’s advice should be put on coffee mugs and bumper stickers, printed on t-shirts and pillow cases. “Worry makes you suffer twice”.
In the story of Lazarus we learn that Jesus came to bring life from the binding fear of death in all of its many forms.
Do you remember Mitch Album, the sports writer who wrote a book called Tuesdays with Morrie? Twenty years ago that book was published and is still on best seller lists. In an interview Mitch explained just how significantly writing that little book changed his life; “Once people stopped me in airports to ask me who would win the Super Bowl and for the last twenty years I get stopped to listen to a story of a loved one’s death. I used to be invited to speak on sports now I am invited to speak at hospice conventions.”
As ALS ravaged his professor Morrie’s body, Mitch kept visiting him. Their unique friendship brought together a journalist and a profound person able to reflect meaningfully on what was happening to his body, mind and spirit. Page after page Mitch recorded Morrie’s thoughts that were not so much about the fear of physical death as the myriad of forms of loss we face as we live. As the disease progressed Morrie became more freely himself, more fully emotionally available, less self -conscious and more deeply grateful of the things others did to support and help. Mitch said that the Tuesdays he visited Morrie were not a sacrifice for Morrie’s behalf instead they were a gift. He learned in the most unique and beautiful way that the best way to live is to learn to die.
Jesus taught that those who lose their life find it, those that take up their cross will live. In other words death teaches us how to live.
Never before has our nation shut down because of a disease in quite this way. Our former way of life has died for the time being. Beyond a microscopic germ we are worried about a lot that is happening outside of our sight. Like a death without a funeral, like Lazarus in his death clothes our worry and fear is binding us. The sign in front of a Baptist church said it well, “I did not expect to give up this much during Lent this year.”
Morrie taught Mitch that if you do not face death and allow the emotion of it to cut through you you cannot get to the good gifts of the present moment. If you do not go through the emotions associated with reality of death you will be motivated by fear, afraid of pain, and your own vulnerability. Morrie recommended throw yourself into the emotions of grief and the anger and frustration… dive into it all, experience it all fully. It is the only way to discover new space of fearless living.
Mable in the pool calls out to all us; “Dive in, when you worry you suffer twice”.
The spiritual path of Christ is to trust death is not an end, it is a gateway. The emotions are part of the process of moving through to the other side.
Like Jesus and Lazarus, Mitch and Morrie, we need each other to get through this business of death becoming new life.
The Harvard Business Review offered many articles describing the economic change we are undergoing as a nation. One article I saw gave some ways to deal with all the emotions that come with the full view of our present uncertainty. The author suggested you take time to feel the frustration first and then begin to re-frame the feelings constructively.
What I know as a pastor is that, grief comes from loss. Grief seems to be the predominant yet unspoken feeling of our nation. Our communities of business colleagues, neighbors, friends, family and parish are not fully realized until we share the emotion of our losses.
What are your losses right now? List them and feel them.
Who can you talk to?
What help do you need to ask for?
What do you have to give others?
Until we reach out truly with what is going on we will stay bound by our stunned fears. Together we help each other through the emotion. And what is going on becomes a pool to dive in and make the best of its cold water for the good of not only ourselves but all in our sphere of love.
Pray with me.
Almighty God, Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found: through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.