Tragedy in Boston: What would Jesus Say?

Although it was almost 30 years ago, I can still vividly remember crossing the finish line at my one and only marathon. I was physically and emotionally spent, in various kinds of pain...but mostly I was really, really exuberant and happy. It was a culmination of months of sacrifice, and all I wanted to do was celebrate. As I watched the news unfold yesterday, I tried to put myself in the running shoes of people approaching the finish line only to hear that the happiness of the finish line had been sabotaged and replaced with fear, chaos, blood and death. 

What do you say to those runners whose joy was turned to shocked mourning, or to those whose family members were injured or killed in Boston yesterday? More importantly, what would Jesus say?

Lately, I find myself returning often to the story of Jesus and his friend, Lazarus. Lazarus had become seriously ill (we don't know what it was--an infection long before the days of antibiotics? heart trouble long before anyone had dreamed of stents and bypasses?). Then Lazarus died. And Jesus went to visit the family. 

While he was still on the outskirts of town, John tells us, Jesus had two separate conversations with two sisters of the dead man--Mary and Martha. Interestingly, both sisters said the same thing to Jesus: "If you had been here, our brother would not have died." But Jesus gave them two very different responses--and I'm convinced that both of them are necessary. 

To Mary, Jesus gave tears. John tells us he was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled"--a Greek term which indicates he was furious at the brokenness of a world where friends die and evil seems to prevail. And it was there, standing with the grieving sister, that "Jesus wept." He didn't give her pithy answers; didn't tell her that it's better to "celebrate his life" than to grieve his death. Didn't even tell her about the (very) temporary nature of Lazarus' death. He just wept. 

I don't always do so well emulating this. As a pastor, sometimes I can be so quick to bring words of comfort, or to mobilize resources and bring practical help...that I forget to weep. Job's friends got at least this part right: before they opened their mouths and got themselves into trouble, they sat with their bereaved friend for seven days and just wept with him. Lord, would you help us to feel, much more deeply, the pain of those struck by tragedy? Before we do anything else, would you help us to be broken up--angry, sad, undone--by life's horrors, and to weep like Jesus?

To the other sister--Martha--Jesus gave words of hope. I don't know why he dealt differently with her, but I'm guessing it's because he knew her heart and what she needed at the moment (good shepherds are blessed with that kind of discernment). And he gave her this breathtaking hope: she would see her beloved brother again--and much sooner than she ever dreamed. Death would not have the last word. Good would prevail. Tears would turn to laughter. This was truth that needed, and still needs, to be spoken--the kind of truth that makes all the difference in the way we grieve.

And yes--what happened next was miraculous and not the norm. The hope that Jesus spoke about--the raising of Lazarus--happened right away. He sovereignly went to "scene select" and selected the final scene, skipping that middle part that we normally have to wait through. As God in the flesh, Jesus could do that sort of thing. 

But let's not miss the larger point: because Jesus went toe to toe with evil and won, he promises to one day reverse all the effects of evil. He will make all things new. Even now--in the waiting time--we have the opportunity to join with him in His great work of redemption--making beautiful things out of the dust of bombings. But the ultimate redemption awaits his return--when he'll wipe every tear from our eyes, because the old order of things--where cancer and terrorists prevail--will have passed away. 

So...what would Jesus say if he were in Boston? I think he'd be right in the midst of the dust and debris, looking individual people in the eye, just being present. And I think he'd give them two precious things: tears...and hope. I want to be like him.