Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jesus, Lord of Death

The Gospel is from St. Mark 5:22-23, 35-43:

One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." He went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The story this week is the latest in a whirlwind series of tales from the life of Jesus. Jesus has – as usual – attracted quite the following upon his return from the Sea of Galilee, and one man in particular has come to him with an urgent request.

Jairus, one of the leaders of the Synagogue, presumably a man of wealth, social prestige, intellect and theological training falls at the feet of Jesus. He begs for the healing of his young daughter, who is on the verge of death. Jesus obliges and the crowd follows.

When they reach the girl, she has passed away, and mourning is already in full swing. Jesus tells them she is not dead, but asleep, and they stop weeping long enough to laugh at him. Shutting the crowd out, Jesus brings only the family to the bedside. He takes Jairus' daughter by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” This is a tender expression in Aramaic, something one would say to a child. It is perhaps better translated as, “Get up, sleepyhead!” Jesus then tells them to give her something to eat.

Most psychologists agree that there are several stages an individual goes through when dealing with the death of a loved one, the final being “acceptance.” What a sad truth that is. We eventually give in to resignation. Death is saluted and feared and honored in our society. Back in Jesus' time, there were “professional mourners” whom one could hire to attend the death of a loved one. They were charged with weeping and wailing loudly, making a fuss over the body and presenting an image of true bereavement. If you think they are a relic of the past, watch the burial arrangements for Michael Jackson! Or take a look at the booming funeral business. The reaper, in his black cloak, sits atop a throne we have built for him.


We would do well to remember Jesus' words. “Do not fear, only believe. She is not dead, but sleeping.” We mourn, yes. Of course we mourn and feel deep sadness! However we do not mourn with resignation, but hope.

The Laramie Project is a play that chronicles the brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd. During the funeral scene, stage directions call for the “minister” to read from the Book of Common Prayer, since Matthew was an Episcopalian. Specifically, these words are proclaimed loudly and boldly: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection.” A friend of mine, unaware of their origin, later recounted to me that those words moved her the most during the play.

Sometimes we despair about trials and tragedies that seem too big for even God to handle. We, like the crowd, say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” The compassion Jesus displays shows that he is not “too busy with the rest of the world” to care for us as individuals. He takes us away from the crowds, gently holds our hand, offers tender words of new life, and sends us on our way with a meal. He loves us – what an extraordinary thought!

The crowds that follow Jesus are often “amazed” at his miracles, but they do not “believe.” Sometimes, we find ourselves “amazed” at the love of God, but never truly internalize it. And that's okay. Even the smallest amount of faith (like a tiny mustard seed) is enough to flourish.

This is true faith, where we are saved by our hope (see also Rom. 8:22-27) rather than an imperfect belief. There is enough faith in the Kingdom of God. And together, we can rejoice and proclaim that Jesus is Lord – of sea and storm, of disease and even death.

1 comment:

Thom Curnutte said...

Nicely said.

(I, too, labored under the weight of a hangover yesterday, only I made no attempt to write.) ;-)