Welcome to the fifth post in my series, Lent, In Other Words. I’m glad you’re here! This week’s reflection is inspired by John 11:1-44, and the word is unbound.
Our church is doing interactive prayer stations during Lent. Each week the congregation is invited to pray using the elements thoughtfully displayed at the stations. The elements reflect the themes of the week’s lectionary reading. So far, we’ve used sand, sticks, stones, bricks, water, and candles. They represented themes like saying no to temptation, starting over, feeling separated from God, and finding light in the darkness.
Yesterday the Gospel reading was the story of the death (and life) of Lazarus. You may recall the story of Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus who became gravely ill. When Martha and Mary sent for Jesus to come and heal their brother, Jesus didn’t exactly make haste to get there. Instead he waited a few days. When he finally arrived, Lazarus was already dead.
I was offered the opportunity to preach yesterday which was a real gift. I imagined out loud what it must have been like for Martha and Mary to wait on Jesus to show up to save their brother—an unanswered prayer or bad timing on God’s part, two things to which modern listeners can likely relate. But my story, and the Gospel story, challenges me to let go of preconceived notions of life and death, and my desire to control the timing of things.
My faith is strengthened when I believe like Martha that Jesus is the “…resurrection and the life. Those who believe in him, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die.” Believing in Jesus’ promise is like releasing all of my bound up human tendencies to control and understand everything. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he said as much, “Unbind him and let him go.” It reminds me when I let go, I make room for new life.
I consider preaching a beautiful gift but yesterday I experienced another gift at the prayer station I was helping with. In the spirit of letting go people were invited to write a prayer on a tiny slip of parchment paper and either burn it or bury it under some soil. The ashes and the soil would then nourish new growth. The idea was that in Jesus, what dies will become new again.
Since I was helping with flame control I caught an accidental glimpse of one woman’s prayer. Before the flame consumed her paper I saw that she had written the words, “My dear husband” followed by his name. I felt like an intruder invading a private moment so I quickly looked away, but I met her eyes instead. Her gaze was tearful—her prayer must have been a difficult gesture—but her warm smile emanated hope. She believed and did as Jesus said: “Unbind him and let him go!” Her husband lives anew and she too is free. Thanks be to God!
In seminary I heard it said that the most profound experiences in ministry are when the minister feels ministered to. Yesterday was one of those days.
What do you need to let go of to experience new life?