I headed to the mall alone on Christmas eve morning. I wasn’t there to walk. I had last-minute arrangements to make. And I wasn’t alone. The mall was already full.
I stopped by the fountain. The crowded tension was stifling.
“The kids will be at the house soon,” I said. “I don’t have much time.”
“I don’t either,” John said. “Sit down.”
I sat down.
“Jesus was teaching one day, same as usual. ‘Master,’ a familiar voice said. It was one of the people who helped out around Martha’s house. But why he was here, two days journey from Bethany. ‘Martha and Mary would like you to come,’ he said. “Lazarus, your friend is very sick.’
“Jesus loved that family. He should have moved immediately. But he didn’t. And later it was clear that he loved them so much that he didn’t move.
“A couple days later, somehow, he knew that Lazarus was dead. Then he decided to go. Some reminded him that he, and they, could be killed within a couple miles of Jerusalem. But he went anyway.
“When he arrived, he talked with Martha. Then he talked with Mary. He wept with Mary, in fact. And then he stood in the graveyard for a bit.”
I waited expectantly. Finally, I said, “And then he called Lazarus out of the dead. Finish the story. Don’t leave me waiting.”
When John finally spoke, his voice was the gentlest it had been.
“You’ve been trying to understand advent, looking ahead to the coming of Jesus. That was Martha and Mary. First looking ahead to the coming of Jesus, then lamenting to him his lack of action. But before there was the miracle, there was the presence.
“People Jesus loves deeply get scared and hurt and desperate. They go places that make them fear for their lives, and some of them die. And when he finally shows up too late, the people he loves tell him so, to his face. He listens, he weeps with them.
“For Mary and Martha, the presence of Jesus before the healing of Lazarus was barely enough. They were hardly holding on. But they did. In the face of the ridicule of those around, and the deep pain in their hearts, they held on. Something about being able to talk with him, weep with him, look to him. And the preview they got of the end of all things was amazing. “
John smiled, as if he were remembering something.
“Yes, the end will be worth waiting for.”
An excerpt from Saint John of the Mall.