Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read through the book of Lamentations, but it’s exactly what its title says: lamentations. Jeremiah’s lament over Israel’s exile into Babylon; his lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the horrible things that the people did and what happened to them during the siege; his lament over his sin and the sin of Israel; his lament over God’s judgment.
Some of it might sound kind of familiar. The very first verse is: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” And verse seven, as well: “Jerusalem remembers, in the days of her affliction and wandering, all the precious things that were hers from days of old.” She remembers how it was in the good old days, before all this. And I imagine that some of the people in Babylon, weeping by the rivers, asked, How did it come to this? How did things go so far? How did we get into this situation? Who is to blame? It used to be so good, and now the city and the temple are empty.
And Jeremiah reminds the people: “Let us test and examine our ways and return to the Lord” (3:40). You can blame Jeremiah all you want, since he was prophet when it all went to hell, but all that will do is possibly make you feel better about yourself. It’s not fixing anything. Let us test and examine our ways—my ways—and return to the Lord.
In the midst of all this, when it seems like it can’t get any worse—of course, it can always get worse; in the midst of Babylon, in the midst of the horror and devastation of Jerusalem, Jeremiah says, “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast, enduring love of Yahweh never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.” He didn’t get that from looking around Babylon for evidence of what God was doing to Israel. He didn’t get it from happy feelings. He didn’t get it from what he was experiencing in that moment. He got it from the word of the Lord. This is about the only happy section in Lamentations, which is probably why it’s the only part we hear in the lectionary. But it’s not make-belief; it’s not pious desire. It’s the word of the Lord, which remains into eternity. His steadfast love never comes to an end; His mercies never end. Every morning that Jeremiah wakes up in Babylon, the word is still true: His mercies are new on that morning. Great is Your faithfulness. Therefore, Jeremiah hopes and believes.
It is good to wait, he says. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of Yahweh. Those are two things that we don’t tend to do very well in our age: waiting and silence. We don’t like silence and we don’t want to wait. Even so, it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of God. And we actually have it in the Gospel reading for Mark.
Jairus comes to Jesus and asks Him to come and heal his little daughter, who is dying. So Jesus goes. But while they’re on the way, Jesus suddenly stops and looks around. “Who touched Me?” His disciples say, “What do You mean, ‘who touched Me’? There’s a huge crowd, people everywhere, all of them pressing in close, and You want to know who touched You?” But Jesus keeps looking. He knows His power has healed someone. (And I suspect He knows who it is, too.) Finally, the woman comes forward and falls at His feet and tells Him the whole story. She has been suffering for 12 years with this horrible hemorrhage. She’s gone to all the doctors. She’s spent all the money. And she’s not getting better, but worse. And then she touches only the fringe of Jesus’ garment and she is healed, after 12 years of waiting!
I can’t imagine being Jairus in those moments. Mark doesn’t tell us that he said anything. He waits quietly. But even so, his daughter is dying and Jesus stops to talk to a woman who has already been healed. And while He’s still talking, someone comes from Jairus’ house and tells him that his daughter is dead. There’s nothing more Jesus can do for him, or for her. But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” Doesn’t it remind you of Martha and Mary meeting Jesus after Jesus has delayed until Lazarus dies? They both come out to meet Jesus and they both say the same thing: Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” In other words, if Jesus had gotten there before Lazarus had died, maybe He could have done something to heal him. But now that Lazarus is dead, not even Jesus can do anything for Lazarus now.
I am the Resurrection and the Life. Even if someone dies, if he believes in Me, he will live. Lazarus, come out! And he does. Little girl, I say to you, get up! And she does. The waiting has no bearing on whether Jesus can do what He says. Even death is nothing but a sleep from which the Lord will wake you. Even if He causes grief—and I imagine He did for Jairus, Mary, and Martha—though He cause grief, He will have compassion, according to His steadfast, enduring love. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of God in Christ, as that woman waited 12 years, as Jairus waited even until his daughter died. It is good because God’s love never ceases and His mercy never comes to an end. Do not be afraid; only believe.
You know how Lamentations ends? It ends like this: “Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Yahweh, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us” (5:20-22). To those words, Jesus says, “Stop being afraid; only believe.” Only believe Him who is the resurrection and the life. Only believe Him who claimed you by name in Holy Baptism. Only believe Him who delivers unconditional forgiveness to you in His Holy Absolution. Only believe Him who feeds you with His own living Body and Blood. It is good to wait quietly in the presence of Jesus. Do not be afraid. Only believe.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/29/18