Daniel Bonnell’s Jesus Wept, (2008)
Today’s gospel reading is a very long reading.
At forty-five verses it is a great deal longer than the readings we would ordinarily hear in our weekly worship. It is this long because in it we hear all of the story of the raising of Lazarus. Through it we hear first that Lazarus is ill, then dead, and then when Jesus comes to his tomb how he is brought back to life. Set for Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent, this reading acts as a glimpse of the truth we will find again as we emerge blinking into the light of Easter morning. It offers us a foretaste of the truth of our faith, that in God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ there is nothing, not even death itself, which cannot be overcome.
But it remains a very long reading.
Ironically, or perhaps deliberately for such a long story, the emotional core of this reading comes in the shortest verse of the whole reading, in fact the shortest verse in the whole Bible: “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35).
In this one verse we see to the heart of this story and the truth it gives us a glimpse of. That the power of God’s love which it displays is not a dispassionate rational power, or a random act of disinterested benevolence. The power of God’s love is revealed in the compassion of that love revealed in Jesus Christ, who stands in the middle of this seemingly bleak story of frailty and death. Jesus does not stand apart, but travels into the centre of the fear and uncertainty of this family’s life. In Jesus, God comes to be with Martha and Mary and their household, and in that place he reveals his compassion as - the Authorised Version so directly renders this verse - “Jesus wept”.
We are encountering this story at the end of the first week of national shutdown in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This is a time of uncertainty and fear for many. Already for some it has become a time of grief, and the grim reality is that there will be more grief to come. But into the heart of this grief and uncertainty we find compassion.
I have spent this week visiting the parish by allowing, as the old advert said, my fingers to do the walking. In the conversations I have had with very many people on the telephone I have heard again and again of the compassion being lived out at the heart of these Parishes by the Wall. I have not encountered anyone who is not reaching out to, or being supported by, family or neighbour. As we look at social media and listen to the news this is a pattern being lived out across our nation and across the world. There will be, sadly, exceptions to this rule and we can and will do more to discover and support those in need. But what is undoubted is that, in the midst of this disorientating time, we are finding the real and tangible signs of compassion and love being shown by so many.
As in the story of Lazarus, it is this compassion which acts as the emotional heart of the story we are living through. What will carry us through this time will be the courage and compassion of our medical professionals, the love and compassion of neighbours, the small acts of compassion that God places on each of our hearts at this time. And as with today's Gospel story it is in these signs of compassion that we will find the first glimpses of the future which God is preparing for us. A future which not even shutdowns, or viruses, or death itself can overcome.
With ongoing love and prayers