“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:38-41
As much as I have had no energy to come to the Scriptures, almost a rebellious desire to keep my distance from it, pieces of stories and verses in their entirety will not leave me be. Grief does strange things to one’s body and mind, certainly. It wants so desperately for me to believe that it is greater than this good God I’ve, perhaps naively, believed in nearly my entire life. It would like to drown me, hands tightened around throat and heartstrings, whispering untruths. It would have me succumb to it’s pleadings- stay in bed. You have suffered enough. Each day will be worse than the last, each day will bring more sadness, more bad news, more heartache. It is best to accept that there is no joy in the land of the living.
They’re all stones. Each lie, a stone. A weight. I asked for bread, I was given a stone. And a stone. And a stone. Until there were too many to carry and I buckled under them, trapped behind.
And this story comes to me when I am sleeping, when I am drinking coffee, black and bitter without tasting it, when I’m dropping my girl off at school or making bread or sobbing in the shower.
This story about siblings-three. One brother, dead, two sisters broken. Words spoken to Jesus that are my own. If you had been here. If you had only been here our brother would have lived.
If you had been here, he would have lived.
My babies, all.
Accusations and grief, raw from their mouths and in their faces. Why didn’t you come?
And because we cannot see, we cannot possibly know what makes the universe tilt and the stars fall and the oceans break angry against the shore and the invisible thread that weaves tight stitches from each human heart to another, he weeps.
He weeps for their hearts and mine; our heads that cannot understand his goodness. He weeps with them with the ache of a friend who wants to shield you from pain, but the pain has already come.
And he tells them to roll the stone away.
After asking for the Christ to come save Lazarus, after searching the horizon for a sign of him coming to save and to rescue, after seeing that he had not come, after witnessing their brother breathe his last breaths, after the waves of grief, after the ceremony, after the burial, after all they had carried and endured, these sisters, could he not, at least, have rolled the stone away himself?
When they watched their brother die, when they felt the sting of abandonment, when grief ripped and tore its way through hearts and limbs weakening joints and spirits, now they must buck up and roll a stone large enough to cover the opening of a cave? A cave they had just buried their brother in only days before? THEY must open it? Now?
Surely, he could have done it himself.
In the group that had gathered there, around the cave, the village for Mary and Martha. THEY rolled it away. All of them. Together.
They dragged their weary bodies, broken with the loss and the tension. Broken by Christ’s absence, broken again by his appearance. Confused and comforted by his tears. They, the village, committed the greatest act of hope. They pushed and heaved and strained and wept and broke loose the bonds and ties that grief weaved like a web around their village and rolled the stone away from the cave where a dead man was buried. Choosing to believe the impossible. Choosing to accept that they know nothing of Jesus’ plan, but they know Jesus. Choosing that whoever He is, whatever He can do is greater than this. Greater than death.
He called them to do it together, for the sake of each other, that they might know who sent Him. So that they might see His glory.
This what I repeat to myself every morning when the sun shining is offensive and my daughter’s inquiries are grating and my heart feels battered.
Roll the stone with your village. Open your cave to hope. Know that He is good.