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Helpless. Over the last seventeen months millions have watched helplessly as loved ones have died from Covid-19. For many there has been no comfort or hope.
In recent times our culture has made a habit of setting aside the wisdom of the past, and especially the wisdom of the Bible. But, as we touched on last week, when we are facing catastrophe and are confronted with the realities of the human experience, the words of the Bible come through with immense power and wisdom, truth and compassion. For here there is comfort for the broken-hearted and hope for the bereaved.
In the Book of Job, chapter 19 we read Job’s words: ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’ (19:25ff).
And through the words and works of Jesus Christ we see the evidence of God’s life-giving power, providing a sure hope of life beyond the grave.
A dying girl. In chapter 5 of his record, St Mark tells of a 12-year-old girl who was dying. Her father, Jairus, a synagogue ruler had ignored the usual Jewish religious leadership opposition to Jesus and begged him for help. And, while Jesus agreed to go with Jairus, he hadn’t hurried. In fact, when he realized that a woman had been cured by touching his clothing, Jesus had stopped to speak with her. We can imagine Jairus’ further sense of helplessness.
It’s worth pausing to consider Jesus’ lack of urgency here. Often we’re anxious because we think God doesn’t understand the urgency of our need. It’s helpful to realize that Jesus knows our situation.
Don’t fear, only believe. During the delay a messenger brought Jairus the news that his daughter had died. Overhearing a comment to Jairus: “Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus’ reassuring response is remarkable: “Do not fear, only believe” (5:35f).
Jesus’ words underline a theme we have already observed: With his coming, fear can give way to faith, not just any faith, or faith in faith, but faith in him. It was a test of Jairus’ faith. The delay not only heightened the drama of the miracle, but shows us that we can trust God to be working out his good purposes for us at all times, even in tough times when he seems to be doing nothing.
So far in Mark’s narrative there is very little evidence of this kind of faith. Yet it is something he wants to press on us, his readers, as he moves on to the climax of this event.
God’s compassion. By noting that Jesus took with him into the house, Peter and John and James (the three who would later witness his transfiguration), Mark affirms their credibility as witnesses to Jesus. Furthermore, by describing the scene at Jairus’ house where people were weeping and wailing loudly, Mark heightens the drama of the scene (5:38).
With Jesus’ words, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping”, the crowds laughed (5:39). They knew the girl was dead, otherwise they would not have been there, and they certainly didn’t believe that Jesus could do anything for her now. But in saying that the girl was sleeping, a word that could signify either physical sleep or death, Jesus indicated the situation was not as hopeless as they thought. Are there not times when we are downcast because we don’t expect God to do the unexpected?
Taking the girl’s parents and the three disciples with him to her bedside, he took the girl’s hand and without any fuss or incantation, said, “Talitha cumi” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (5:41).
In touching the dead girl Jesus had technically become impure and ritually unclean. Yet he had not hesitated to do this for her sake.
New life. At his words, immediately the girl got up and began walking… (5:42). Understandably the parents were amazed (8:56) at this extraordinary act of Jesus. Directing that they should give her something to eat (5:43), Jesus not only showed his understanding of the girl’s need, he wanted everyone to know she was not an apparition. She was truly alive. No one but God could raise the dead.
There is no other word to describe what Jesus had: power. Power over death itself; power to turn a day of mourning into a day of joy.
New hope. An event such as this awakens us to where hope is to be found. According to the Bible we are all helpless. We try to hide this or simply ignore it, but the reality is that we are not in charge of our destiny. Our world is subject to titanic forces far beyond our control. Consider the power of fires, floods and earthquakes; consider the evil in the world and the atrocities that are perpetrated for the sake of human power; consider the power of a pandemic and the harsh reality of death.
CS Lewis spoke of suffering as God’s megaphone. It can awaken us to the realities of our helplessness and therefore our need for God. Sometimes it is only when face the realities of life and death that we come to our senses and turn to Jesus.
Whatever our cry is, Mark wants us to know that our cry will be heard. We can also point people we know who have lost loved ones through Covid or for some other reason, to the God of all hope. In Christ Jesus alone, helplessness can be changed into hopefulness.
A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people continually in a true faith in you; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.