This seems like a strange time to write a blog post called “Better Together” – especially as we experience a world-wide pandemic that has forced us to be conscious of how we create physical distance from each other.
We also live in a culture that has propagated the myth that we don’t need to rely on others for help but should do everything ourselves. In fact, a kind of cult of individualism runs rampant in North America, and perhaps the COVID-19 virus, with its “social distancing” and its deadly results, makes us think more about our community.
When I joined InterVarsity in the mid-70s I believed God had called me to IV to evangelize Canadian youth. Over the next ten years, and even right up to today, I have become aware of a different reason for God’s call on my life. I will come back to this theme, but let me ask two questions:
Am I better with others?
Do I need others?
Could it be that the Trinity is the template for our lives here on earth?
If you were born in a field and you did not have any relative or helper to wrap you up or find food for you, you would probably perish. So, even though our culture educates us in the “power of one” and the “importance of self”, the reality is that we could not survive without the intimate involvement of others. As I journeyed further through my years with IV and Pioneer camps, this became very clear in my life.
The Story of an East Side Kid
I was an east side kid. Growing up, I was comfortable with concrete and liked trees in a park or on a boulevard, but suddenly I was supposed to take campers on out-trips into the wilderness and teach them how to swim and sail and tie knots.
My previous camp experience?
I had been in Boy Scouts, but on my first camping trip, I got a rash so went home on the second day.
Still, the doorway for me into InterVarsity was through Pioneer Camp, and as I look back, I realize that God had a sense of humour putting me into leadership roles at camp.
Here was this kid who felt at home in the city and out of his element in the forest or on water. I did not run away but I was curious how it would all work out. At that time, I was trying to figure out why God would have called me, not into a situation where I felt at home, but into such an uneasy and foreign place.
The light bulb finally went on. God had not actually called me to evangelize Canadian youth, even though I did a little of that.
I started to realize that God had pursued me to evangelize me and convert me throughout my whole life.
The Creator gave me a role at Pioneer camp where I felt totally out of my depth and, most obviously, where I could not lead alone. What was I to do? I began finding as many people as I could – various amazing people who wanted to come to camp and who had skills beyond the few that I had. I did have things to offer and much to learn, but we shared the challenges together and experienced a community life that was rich because we relied on God and each other.
I began to see that because Jesus took a stance of servant leadership, he did most things as he walked with others, and those others learned, sometimes with great difficulty, along the way.
The Story of Lazarus
Even as Jesus went to the cross, He needed others to help him carry the Cross. Also, the week before, he had asked people to help him raise Lazarus from the dead. A question that could follow is whether Jesus needed or simply preferred to include others in the drama of this miracle.
Perhaps another form of this question is, “Did Jesus believe in ‘better together’?”
Let’s look at the highlights of John 11. Right at the beginning of the chapter we meet Lazarus in his trauma and drama. He is sick and then dies. His sister Mary sends for Jesus, but instead of coming right away, Jesus waits and does not arrive in Bethany until 4 days after the death. This meant that Lazarus must surely be dead.
I love reading how Jesus acts and responds in this situation. In John 11:34, Jesus asks, “Where have you laid him?” I find it fascinating that the Creator of the earth did not know where Lazarus was entombed. The sisters replied, “Come and see, Lord,” and Jesus began weeping (11:35).
What grief and pain was Jesus carrying that caused him to weep? (Your turn: What do you think? Try to be specific.)
Then, in John 11:38, it says Jesus was deeply moved when he came to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone laid across its entrance. “Take away the stone,” commanded Jesus.
Again, I would think that Jesus had many resources at his fingertips, yet he invited the mourners and family around him to take away the stone. This would not have been a welcomed instruction, for those around were well aware that after 4 days, there would be a terrible smell.
(Your turn: If you were one of the family or friends, how would you have responded? Think of the social and cultural barriers involved in opening up a tomb.)
Jesus then says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
The glory of God is one thing, but the stench of death is totally another.
Jesus then commands: “Lazarus! Come Out!” Lazarus comes out of the tomb shuffling his feet, moving slowly and awkwardly. He is wrapped up like a mummy, so he is stuck in his graveclothes. In his final words at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus tells the family and friends to take the graveclothes off and release him.
Here are a few general questions about the story of Lazarus related to us now.
Are you feeling like you are living in a tomb during this time of COVID 19?
If that is what you are feeling, I encourage you to go back to John 11:43. Read it out aloud, and instead of using Lazarus’s name, insert your own. Yell (or imagine yelling) your name with Jesus’s command, “Come Out!”
Consider what other tombs you might be in.
Think about who can and would help you take off your graveclothes – and about whose graveclothes you might help take off.
If this little blog has triggered more questions don’t hesitate to drop me a note at amckay@chaplains. ca
This article was written by Al McKay, a Chaplain, in collaboration with Mia McKay. Al's favourite part of his work is seeing Jesus in unfamiliar places of the Downtown East side in Vancouver. When Al was a kid, he wanted to be a teacher or a famous rock drummer when he grew up. If Al had a free afternoon, you'd find him spending time with his wife. To read more articles from our Corporate Chaplains, you can visit our Chaplains Blogs.