Loss, grief, love and joy

The sudden, raging wildfire that destroyed a city of 88,000 in Alberta last week confronted Canadians with the spectre of loss – loss of homes, jobs, memories, and even life.

The Fort McMurray fire that swept down on a city in a matter of minutes gave Canadians a taste of what is a daily story around the globe.  War in the Middle East, earthquakes in Nepal, tsunamis in Japan.

And it reminded us that suffering is common to everyone – although, on a much smaller scale.

Yet, if we look hard enough, hope can rise out of the ashes.

I am reminded of the great story in John 12 of the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.

Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were very close to Jesus.  He visited them often at their home in the Judean town of Bethany.

Jesus receives a message from the family that Lazarus is very sick.  Clearly, the sisters want Jesus to come quickly, knowing the miraculous powers he has and sure that he will rush to his bedside out of love.

But, strangely, Jesus dawdles.  He says Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death – in fact, it will result in glory to God.  But, a couple of days later he says that “Lazarus has fallen asleep” and it is time to go to see him.

When Jesus and his disciples arrive in Bethany, it seems that Jesus was wrong – Lazarus is clearly dead.  Lazarus’ sisters are heartbroken and in mourning.

In fact, they subtly blame Jesus for not coming earlier to heal his friend.

But Jesus utters the great words: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”

Of course, Jesus was speaking of eternal life – living with Jesus after physical death.

Seeing the grief around him, Jesus weeps.  He is angry, too – possibly because of Satan’s power to hurt and kill physically and emotionally.  Perhaps it is because he knows how hard it is to convince people of the power of God’s love.

Then, Jesus commands the onlookers to roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb.

He shouts: “Lazarus, come out!”

And the dead man walks out, still in his grave clothes.

The result is that many people believe in Jesus from that day onwards and God is glorified.

For me, it also illustrates a cycle that many believers go through in life – loss, grief, love and joy.

We suffer and don’t know why.  We go through grief – perhaps the death of a loved one or the destruction of a marriage.

But, if we look carefully, we become aware of love and, ultimately, joy.  Perhaps it is the love of people around us and, always, the love and compassion of God.

The hardest concept of all is joy in the midst of suffering.

But believers know that Jesus’ words to his disciples – “I am the resurrection and the life” – are seeds of joy.

As David wrote in Psalm 30: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

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