Lord, If You Had Been Here…

A couple years ago, Kristen and I visited a church in Colorado Springs where the minister spoke on John 11 and how it was all about the glory of God. It launched me into a spiral of doubt and a blog post about Confronting the Horror of John 11.

In my spiritual formation class, we’ve been talking about Lectio Divina, the spiritual practice of reading scripture to see what you think God is saying rather than the “plain meaning” or the properly exegeted meaning. It’s taken me some interesting places, but yesterday the lectionary reading took me to John 11:28-44. I was reading along and this verse caught my eye:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (11:32)

“Lord, if you had been here…”

The sermon in church yesterday morning was about doubt and questions and the minister talked about feeling that she had moved from doubt all the way to atheism at one point when she saw the photo of the 3-year-old Syrian boy’s body washed up on the shore. She felt that God had not been there.

Lord, if you had been here…

I wouldn’t open my news feed every day and read about another black man shot by police.

Lord, if you had been here…

Climate change would not be shrinking rivers, nor over-armed Americans engaging in mass shootings.

Lord, if you had been here…

My heart would not have been broken.

Lord, if you had been here…

Israel and Palestine would stop their continuous violence in the name of self-defense.

Lord, if you had been here…

That little Syrian boy would have landed somewhere safe.

Lord, if you had been here…

God obviously had not been in those places. If she had, things would have gone rather differently.

But well-meaning evildoers abuse children, and horrific weather events leave people homeless and dead, and drug companies still haven’t found a cure for cancer, for which they would overcharge if they found it anyway, and the hospitals and graveyards are filled with people who, Lord, you had been there, would not be in the situation they are in.

So Jesus saw Mary and everyone with her weeping, and he was moved.

And Jesus wept.

The skeptics in the crowd, people like me, march the line between sadness and indignance, noting, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Which is a really great question. Could not he who helped Joel Osteen find a parking space have prevented the holocaust? Could not he who saved one person have also saved this other one, or that other one? Could not he who helped me find my keys have helped the pilot of that refugee ship find a way that didn’t end in everyone drowning?

In my earlier post, I pondered upon why Jesus didn’t make it on time.

Was it about the glory of God? How sick is that? How cruel? But with this reading of the story, I think I know why Jesus did not make it on time:

Jesus did not get there in time because Jesus never gets there in time.

Lazarus died because Lazarus always dies.

Or at least it seems that way sometimes.

It is in the Bible because it is true.

And maybe, just maybe, something else there is true too: that little line at the end, that says “I am the resurrection and the life,”

Jesus asks, “Where have you put him?”

He is behind the stone, locked away in a cave, because that is where we always put our Lazaruses – somewhere out of sight, to protect our sensitive noses from the stench and the reminder that Jesus did not come on time and that he rarely does, except when it’s not especially important.

But Jesus says, “Remove the stone.” Face down your dead brother that is too much for you to even look at, let alone smell.

Naturally, we protest, but Jesus insists. So with half a hope barely able to lift its head, we half-heartedly push the stone away from the cave, hoping against hope, but not too much because we have already been disappointed.

Jesus tells Lazarus to come forth.

Miracle of miracles, he does.

Maybe, just maybe, someday, Jesus will call all of our Lazaruses to come forth.

And maybe, just maybe, someday, they will.


About David M. Schell






One response to “Lord, If You Had Been Here…”

  1. jesuswithoutbaggage Avatar

    Wow David! This is a wonderful post and so well written! It is not often I see a post with so much insight as this: Jesus never gets there in time, but he then raises us up.

    I also like your clever question: “Could not he who helped Joel Osteen find a parking space have prevented the holocaust?” It is perfect.

Join the conversation!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.