Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do You Believe This? (A Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11.1-45)

What a question. Do you believe this? Can't you see Martha, squirming a little bit, casting worried glances at the place where she knows she has buried her brother? She knows somewhere that the answer is yes, but everything in her world shouts No! I don't believe you! I don't believe that this is the truth! Jesus, if you had been here, but she knows the answer, that he wasn't. Hasn't the question been answered? If you had been here, but you weren't and so now all is lost. It is over. 

The past week has delivered its fair share of the Lenten life: the death of my grandmother, who I am told holds a mirror to deep parts of my personality, difficulty with friends, the soon-arriving departures of cherished people into the next steps of their life, trying to be present in my schoolwork. And I confess, more than once this week (more than once every day) I have spoken defeat: Lord, if you had been here. In invisible parentheses I scrawl the words to end the story: (but you weren't and so she has died and I have hurt them or they have hurt me and so it is over)

That is where I meet Martha this week. I'm outside the tomb, waiting for the miraculous, disbelieving. And he asks her, Do you believe this? Do you believe ME? 

And Martha says to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." 

Yes, Lord, I believe. The words taste good, even when my heart can't quite believe. We focus a lot on the heart in Christianity (and rightly so!). We say, it counts internally, it matters what your heart says about Jesus, if you believe in your heart. Evangelicals shy from ritual because they fear a repetition void of meaning. They look for spontaneous speech, prayer, and for unique declaration. I am glad we do - I need reminding. But in haste to protect from vain repetition, we forget how words spoken help fix the heart when it wanders. How belief is in our voice when our heart is too heavy to hold onto Him. How it is the tearful whisper in the dead of night under your comforters that, "Oh, Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief." that drags our heart back into the brilliant light of the Resurrection. 

Martha, she says Yes, but her heart is still heavy. When Jesus goes to the tomb, we hear her doubt again. "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." She believes, and her heart is still doubtful. Her voice clings to the yes, and it is this yes that anchors the hope when the world has overturned us and our hearts mourn and wander and weep. 

I am reminded that words are good for our hearts today, as I unwillingly lay mine open to the Cross and hold out my hands, eyes cast desperately at the altar, to the skies, wondering how it is God is the one who brings resurrection (if you had been here...): and then we pray. And though my heart is heavy, my voice cries out yes. Do not be afraid if today it is just your voice that can sing of His promises. Do not be afraid if you see the valley of dry bones and you wonder if God can make life. Do not be afraid if you cannot light a flame of passion under your words. 

Do not be afraid, because behold the promise: "Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord." (Ezekiel 37.12-14)

When he asks you to believe in the impossible, when he asks you to believe Him when every trace of Him seems to have disappeared, when he says to you, Martha - to believe that in Him no one ever dies - though your heart be heavy, trust the words He speaks to you and speak your own yes. 

Let us pray. 

Fifth Sunday in Lent
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and
affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people that they may
love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that
which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and
manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there
be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



  1. Beautiful. Thank you.

    I so badly want my life to glaringly reflect the yes... Yes, I believe! But I know, too often, I live with the no, make choices based on little faith, choices under my control and not His, and that is my folly.

    Thanks for the reminder. I pray things look up for you, friend, after the difficult season you've had. <3

  2. Thank you, Cara. It is good to have people to help us say "yes" in the midst of the difficult seasons. I think that's why I love blogging so much - it helps me say yes, and it helps me listen to others saying yes too. It's always good to have you visit!


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