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The Gift of Gathering

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.” John 11:32

The first death I experienced as a child that impacted my understanding of dying and death was that of my cousin Jeff. I was home alone in Indiana when my grandmother called from the family farm in Upstate New York and asked me to give an important message to my parents. Jeff, age 11, had died in an accident.


I hung up not knowing what to do. I was only 10, and Jeff and I had been great playmates and friends. Eventually, my parents came home, and the next day, we made our way East for the funeral.


At the calling hours, I sat at a distance from the open casket. I believed in the resurrection of the dead. If I sat and believed and stared long enough and hard enough at Jeff’s lifeless body, maybe he’d come back to life.


Nothing happened. Finally, I gave up. Later on, I wandered and found another cousin, Michael, who was also 11 hanging out in an adjacent room. I entered, and the two of us processed and remembered Jeff together and shared how much we’d miss him.


Funerals are tough on everyone, especially children, though they are a bit more resilient than we give them credit.


Death, especially when it comes unexpected and far too soon in the lives of those whom we have loved so much, fills our hearts with anguish. Surely, that was the case for Mary, Lazarus’s sister.


Where were you, Jesus? Couldn’t you have stopped this from happening?


Indeed, where is God when any suffering and death happens?


God doesn’t cause our suffering, nor does God need certain events to happen in order to bring into effect something else. Nor is God absent from our suffering. God grieves with us.


Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that day. And eventually, Lazarus died again. In this encounter, Jesus grieves and performs this miracle as a foretaste of his Easter resurrection and the one to come.


As I look back, I am so grateful for the time my extended family and the surrounding community gathered to grieve and remember Jeff with my aunt, uncle and Jeff’s little brother. It was an important part of my faith journey in learning about faith and hope in God’s promises and the resurrection and entrusting Jeff to God’s eternal care.

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