Undo

Don’t you sometimes wish that life would give you a second chance, an opportunity to undo tragedies and mistakes?

In the world of keyboarding, for example, “Ctrl + Z” is your friend. It’s the shortcut for “undo.” Indeed, some keyboards and many software programs have an undo key or function built in, all of which allow you to take back mistakes. “Undo” doesn’t fix everything; you can’t unsend that impetuous, angry email. But it’s undeniably handy.

If only life itself had an undo key. We might have fewer regrets.

We often have regrets when loved ones die. We think about the things left undone or unsaid, the things we would do differently if only we had another chance, a little more time.

Undo? Redo? If only.

John’s gospel tells us a poignant story of grief and mourning. Martha and Mary are sisters; they live with their brother Lazarus in the little village of Bethany. When Lazarus falls ill, they send for their good friend Jesus, knowing that he has the power to make Lazarus well. But the word goes out too late, and Lazarus dies before the message even arrives.

As was the custom, people came to condole and mourn with the family. The house was filled with the sounds of weeping and wailing.

Martha received word that Jesus was near. The message went directly to her; she was the one expected to take charge, the one who always got things done. So, having heard the news, she arose from her mourning and went out quietly to meet Jesus on the road.

Her words to Jesus are a mixture of faith and regret: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22, CEB).

Does Martha expect Jesus to press the undo button? It doesn’t seem so, at least not directly — because later, when Jesus proposes to open Lazarus’ tomb, Martha will object. And even when Jesus responds that Lazarus will rise again (vs. 23), she misunderstands: “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day” (vs. 24).

It was, apparently, a common Jewish hope that God’s people would be resurrected to eternal life sometime in the distant future (e.g., Dan 12:2; Isa 26:19). It may even be that people had already offered Martha this solace, much as we might tell a bereaved friend, “Cheer up, at least he’s in heaven with Jesus now,” or, “You’ll be together again someday.”

Our friends might not take such encouragement well; tomorrow seems like cold comfort for today’s grief. Does Martha feel the same way? Is her response mere theological correctness, spoken with weariness? Yes, Lord, I know…(sigh)…I’ll see Lazarus again someday. 

John doesn’t tell us what Martha is feeling.

But he does tell us that Jesus isn’t done with her yet.

Undo is coming.

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