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Making Sense of Tragedy

It happened again yesterday. My phone rang, and the voice on the other end was distraught and distressed. My friend’s 33-year-old son had just passed away. He was off the ventilator and speaking…seemingly doing better. And then he wasn’t. Hope was dashed. Cautious optimism plummeted to deep despair. Their pain was crushing. The script made no sense.

Later that afternoon I called my mom. She’s 85 and lives an unbelievably productive life. We don’t often talk about it, but together we remember what it’s like. Mom‘s oldest son and my brother, Randy, died when he was 29. The circumstances were different, but the outcome was the same. Tragic loss. Devastating. We feel it. It never goes away completely. And when friends lose their loved ones, you lose yours again and their pain becomes your pain.

One of Jesus’ most amazing miracles occurred in a graveyard. After the funeral was over and the mourners were still hanging around doing their part, Jesus finally shows up. Late. Too late. Or so it seemed. You may remember that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were close friends with Jesus. Several days earlier the sisters sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Their expectation seems to be that Jesus would drop whatever he was doing and get over there right away. But Jesus never showed up. Until now.

One can only speculate their frame of mind or attitude as Jesus shows up at the burial spot. But we do know that the first words spoken by them to Jesus was something to the effect that if he’d been there, none of this would have happened. Their words were almost accusatory. You could sense the hurt in their grief. It did not have to be this way.

Jesus knew. He knew his waiting would result in the death of his dear friend. He knew the sisters would be devastated, and severely disappointed in him as a friend and as a man representing God. Jesus also knew that God had a bigger plan in mind that could only be effectuated in the fullness of time and only as he waited before responding.

Their story ended better than that of my friend today. Lazarus’ funeral became a welcome home party. Though it would never make total sense to Mary, Martha, and the family of Lazarus, they were willing to live with the ambiguity. Mourning turned to dancing for a while.

The painful reality of life on earth is that it eventually ends. We all have an expiration date. Our days are numbered. Yet the words Jesus uttered in the graveyard over 2000 years ago are equally true today. I am the resurrection and the life…whoever believes in me will live even though they die. This is not all there is. The same power that raised Jesus from grave elevated Lazarus a few years before his second funeral.

Those reminders bring hope to our despair and possibility to our bleak circumstances. But today it makes no sense. God never wastes pain. He joins us and often carries us through the valley of the shadow. Eventually the tears will all be wiped away. Joy will return. But today and tomorrow we struggle. It will make sense someday. But not today.

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