As hospital weekend chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, I see many, many patients and their families in the last few hours of their life. I would like to share my observations of the families as they grieve for their loved one who are dying. In most cases the patient room fills and fills again with relatives and friends who are not only concerned about the patient but they are also concerned about the loved ones who have come quickly from all over the city, state, and nation to show family support. It is sometimes hard to enter the room because of the number of grieving family members. My pastoral concern is not just to ease the fear the dying one, but to minister to the grieving family and friends. It is truly amazing how the word is spread about an injured or dying patient. Because of the shock some family members lay on the ground, others pray out loudly, and others sit muted by grief.
These situations are similar to the neighborhood of Bethany, Lazarus's home. His family and friends were very upset because he had died. Lazarus was loved by his two sisters and many, many friends. In fact because Bethany was so close to Jerusalem that many Jews came to comfort them about their brother. So his two sisters sent messengers to Jesus a town away to let him know that Lazarus was dead and they wanted Jesus to come to Bethany quickly because they knew he could heal him.
Jesus got the message but did not go directly to Bethany. His followers and Jesus knew that Bethany was close to Jerusalem. The gift of life that Jesus might give to Lazarus could lead to Jesus' own death. Jesus knew that it was not the right time for him to heal Lazarus. He wanted the people to know that he would awaken Lazarus but it needed to be In God's time and not just any time. It would be a miracle that would astound everyone and it was a miracle that had to be done at a certain hour so that people would believe fully that Jesus was God.
When Jesus arrived Martha went out to greet him. She admonished him and told Jesus that if he had been here Lazarus would not have died. She also told him that she believed whatever God would tell Jesus to do God would do it. Mary then approached and admonished Jesus that if he had come when they called for him their brother would not have died. Both her weeping and Martha's weeping caused Jesus to Jesus weep. It was time, now, for Jesus to go immediately to the tomb.
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and asked our heavenly God to heal Lazarus. Jesus did this for an important reason. He wanted all of the people: friends, villagers, Jews, and family to hear him ask God for the healing of Lazarus. It would be a huge, huge event for the many people gathered around to see that Jesus was God and could heal when he asked his heavenly parent God for the right time. Lazarus was raised from the dead not by human power but by the power of Jesus. All obstacles were broken of time and space and life was given to one who was really dead. Jesus ministered to Martha and Mary by coming to Bethany and grieving with them and by healing the one they loved.
Three commands were given and Lazarus stumbled from the tomb. He really had been dead but now was alive. It is said that Lazarus lived thirty more years until he succumbed to his real death. The crowd was jubilant that Lazarus was alive but Jesus knew that this news would be getting faster to Jerusalem and he would be put to death much sooner.
What have we learned from this story? I believe that we have learned that everything is done in God's time. God does hear our prayers but for unknown reasons God has a plan for the universe and can make all things work for good.
How does this help the people who are suffering over an upcoming death of a loved one? God respects the human condition and allows people to die. God also hears the prayers of people and respects them. Perhaps there are things that we will never know as to the time, place, and events that have people dying at a certain time. I know that God has allowed extra time for the dying person so they could see and have reconciliation with a family member who has been away for a long time. Much forgiveness can happen and much closure can happen if the dying one and family members have time to be together. I remember December of last year when my former husband died. He reconciled with all of his family and we all had a chance to reconcile with him. Tears were flowing and healing was taking place. We did not want him to go. But God gave us enough time with him for healing of the family to take place. We did not know God's time but God surely knew what the family and Ed needed.
All of us struggle with the timing of God: At least I do. I talked to Dick, a deacon, about prayer. He has been praying for his son who has been struggling for many years with chemical abuse and mental illness. He told me just yesterday that he used to have a very structured prayer life before his son got into some trouble. Now his prayer life is very simple. He prays often in short phrases, at many times of the day, and never knows what or when God will answer his prayers.
I have been praying for my grandson for years now. I used to have goals that I would like my grandson should reach. Now I just pray that God hears my prayer and will take care of my grandson's needs when God wants. I even stop praying for certain goals that I want to be accomplished. Only God knows what is best.
Jesus waited three days before he went to Bethany because it was his Father's choice that he would do this. This is a wonderful example of waiting in faith for God to intercede in our lives and the lives of the ones we love. Faith in the power of prayer and faith in God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is what we need. Pray all of the time for not only our troubles but for the troubles in the world. I leave it to God to act whenever time it is appropriate.