Sunday reflection

This week’s reading is St John 11: 17 - 27

How are you feeling just now – scared, angry, sad, or maybe reasonably  happy? Maybe you are feeling  none of these things and yet a mixture of them all, all at the same time? When our routines change and the children are at home, and we can’t get out and about and we are concerned about our own health and the health of those around us and about plans we had that will now change, our emotions tend to be all over the place. It only takes someone to spill something on the floor for us to lose our temper, or a kind word to make us burst in to tears, and it takes a while and a bit of thought to work out what has actually made us shout or cry – usually that combination of emotions that we are keeping inside us but burst out without warning. Judging by the number of people who have spoken of their surprise emotions or sudden outbursts, it seems that this is normal behaviour for the times we are in, and normal means we aren’t unusual or alone, but going through what everyone else is experiencing too.

In our reading from John’s gospel we met Martha whose brother Lazarus has died. She is raw and grieving, bereft and empty. I suspect she has been keeping her emotions together for at least four days to preserve her own dignity and control. But when she sees her old friend Jesus coming she can’t keep her emotions in any longer and she greets him with the words – if you had been here my brother would not have died, and even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.

If you had been here my brother would not have died.

Like our anger or fear or frustration, Martha’s words express her inner most thoughts, even if they don’t make much sense. What could Jesus have done had he been there? Would his presence really have prevented Lazarus from dying? Yet Martha needs someone to blame, someone to shout at, someone to understand her loss and her grief and her pain, and Jesus just happens to be the safe person she can vent her emotions to.

What I love about that exchange between Martha and Jesus is that Jesus doesn’t respond to Martha as she has responded to him – he doesn’t shout back at her or ask her how dare she speak to him like that, which would be a fairly normal reaction given that he’s just turned up and being blamed for something he didn’t do. Instead he calms her – he listens to Martha and quietly and gently takes her emotions and soothes them. Into some of her noise and confusion he speaks words of peace and of healing: your brother will rise again he says. He assures her that this death isn’t the end, but there is light in her darkness. And what I continue to love about Martha is that her spirt isn’t quenched, but instead she still has her feisty-ness and character: I know that he will rise again on the last day, she replies and although it is difficult to hear her tone and expression, I’m happy to believe she is still strident, still raising her voice – her faith isn’t in question here, but she still needs to be heard and understood.

Jesus asks her: do you believe this? And almost with a pause for breath and a gulp to calm herself down Martha says: Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.

Jesus’ voice of calm and truth has gently reminded Martha of what she already knows, but that her emotions and pain had clouded over for a moment. Thanks to his words and his listening ear, Martha is able to regain her centre, to repeat to herself words of faith, to pause and find calm. And much of that came from being heard, and understanding her own emotions, and being able to vent those emotions with someone she trusts and who loves her.

People have often found prayer to be a form of expressing our emotions – words of worry spoken in anger, followed by peace and a clearer vision. The writer of the book of Psalms has expressed almost all emotions known to humankind – thanks and thoughtfulness, pain and anger, doubt and fear, pride and learning and by expressing these emotions in writing he has left for us a mirror of much of what we feel and think and vent. In Psalm 130 we read: out of the depths I cry to thee O Lord,! Lord hear my voice! Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication!

Whatever we are feeling just now, and however we express those feelings, be assured that God hears us. And by speaking our fears and voicing our emotion we are not judged, but understood, and will come to understand ourselves better, and to find peace.


Loving God you know our innermost thoughts and feelings,

Even when we don’t understand them ourselves.

You take our fears and hold them until we find calm.

You welcome us when we are angry,

You hear us when we shout and blame.

And gently into our darkness and confusion, into our rage and righteousness

You speak words of understanding and recognition,

Of growth and hope,

Of light and life, and for this we give thanks.

Continue to hear the words and tears of those who grieve,

and be with those who are fearful and frustrated.

Guide our leaders and decision makers, we pray, and bring us strength and patience,

Wisdom and hope,

Giving thanks for life and light, for neighbours and strangers, for peace and understanding.