At the time of publication, 22 states in the U.S. have implemented shelter-in-place orders. People can only leave their house for “essential” needs. Otherwise, we are being asked to stay in our homes to avoid spreading Covid-19. This worldwide pandemic has altered the way we travel, purchase things, and commune with one another. The enforced distance reminds me more than ever of our deep need for community.
Social distancing is the opposite of Christ’s incarnation. Jesus socially embedded himself into our humanity because we are communal beings. We were built with a biological, neurological, metaphysical, psychological and spiritual need to be in contact with other humans. That’s why social distancing feels like such a great loss! And it’s compounded when we can’t even see our loved ones!
This is the place we find Mary and Martha in John 11:1-45. Their brother, Lazarus, was dying when they informed Jesus of his condition. Still, Jesus waited two more days before arriving at their house. And his delay seemed to be intentional! In vs. 21, Martha is the first to boldly speak her mind, “Lord if you had been here….” Mary echoes the same lament in vs.32. “Lord if you had been here….”
As of March 26th, more than 24,000 people worldwide have been killed by this virus, and the numbers are rising fast. I think of all the families who have lost loved ones. “Lord if you had been here.”
I think about those who are vulnerable among us in this time of chaos and uncertainty. Hourly jobs are in jeopardy, travel has all but halted, healthcare workers and facilities are overwhelmingly taxed and the future is unknown. “Lord if you had been here.”
Those words are an honest assessment in the face of current circumstances, especially for the most vulnerable. We mourn the passing of loved ones and try to make sense of what a future looks like without them, or maybe even make sense of what our past was like with them. We isolate the elderly, in an effort to protect them, even though they need community now more than ever. Others who have compromised immune systems are also in need of care and yet physical distance all at once. “Lord if you had been here.”
Our lament is right, but this text comforts us with an important reminder—Jesus was there for Lazarus. The timing was unexpected, but he was still there. In fact, Jesus was so present in the moment of sadness and lament, he wept, even though he knew what lay ahead. I wonder, for a brief moment, did he even ask himself “Why wasn’t I here earlier?”
Jesus was there. He was present. And in this instance, his incarnational tears brought forth new life.
A devastating pandemic like Covid 19 brings our humanity to a very real space. We are so small, frail and helpless in the face of such calamity. And yet, even though we mourn and weep and say, “Lord had you been there,” this text invites us to remember that Jesus weeps with us as well. His is the presence of the incarnated God who chose not to remain distant from us, but to be embedded in our humanity and all of it’s frailties. That’s where I rest my hope today.
I don’t know how the next few months will unfold, but I will hold on to the image of a Jesus who weeps with me in the present. His tears bring forth new life in unexpected ways, even if they aren’t always able to resurrect our old life exactly as we had known it.