Funerals are difficult. It’s so difficult to find the right words to say to those who mourn. And so difficult to find the right words to say to others attending. And so difficult to find the right words to say if one’s going to benefit from the death.......
Every week in Jersey there are around 20 funerals. Attendance seems to alter in inverse proportion to the age at death of the deceased. The younger the deceased - the more people. And vice versa.
What words to say? One of the biographies of Jesus of Nazareth records various words spoken on the occasion of the death of man in AD 30 in Bethany, 2 miles from the city of Jerusalem. They are outstanding examples of the type of things that are sometimes said in Jersey.
The deceased is Lazarus, an unmarried man who lived with his two sisters. When Jesus arrived the first sister met him near the grave and said “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” That is usually said by way of blame. And, very often, we say those words of blame to ourselves – or similar words.
In this case, though, Martha followed with, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She certainly thought Jesus rather special. And longed to be prayed for.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” And again, at Christian funerals, one hears those words. And, on hearing them, Martha replied, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Christians in Jersey say that too. But is it so? Jesus was not happy about that reply. His immediate response is in bold above. He knew that she needed proof.
Others there on that day are reported as “consoling” her sister Mary. Mary was “weeping”. When she meets up with Jesus, she repeats her sister’s exact words (how often that happens in the funeral line-up) and says to him, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
Is Jesus then to blame for the death of Lazarus? Is God to blame? But Jesus is to blame for not being there – for not putting a stop to the dying.
But how could he have stopped death? It’s one of two life’s certainties: death and taxes.
Jesus then resurrects Lazarus who, having been entombed for four days, would already have begun to decomposed. During this whole process, Jesus’ biographer records that Jesus was deeply troubled and distressed - and wept. But Lazarus lived again, totally restored to life.
There’s yet more funeral speak in the biography. The words remind one of the post-funeral will-reading – but this time it’s a row because the dead man is no longer dead. Things are not right, not as they should be. Listen to the self-interest of it. Just like Jersey will-reads behind the scenes.
“The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”
The irony of it is that Caiaphas was right. Jesus would die for others, so that others would not die. He is the resurrection. He is the life.
From that day on the Council made plans to put Jesus – and Lazarus - to death. The members of the Council, the highest authority in the land, wanted to retain their “place” in charge of their “nation” so they had to kill Jesus.
If we are to remain in charge we also have to do away with him, and ignore his generosity and life.