“He is risen, my friend.” These are the first words of an email Mikey sent me on April 4, 2010–Easter Sunday–an email in which Mikey also said, “I have been blessed so much that I couldn’t deny his love ever again. He truly is my savior. I just realized that through Christ anything is possible.”
Indeed, He is risen. But on days like today it is hard to say such words. And though these are the words we most need to say, most need to believe, on days like today it’s not the resurrection that we feel; it is the death that precedes it, not the words of Easter but the words of the Friday before. We open our mouths to say it, to say, ‘He is risen’, but all that comes out is, ‘He is dead’.
‘He is dead’. That’s what Jesus said about Lazarus in John 11. There are only three places in the Bible that we are told Jesus cried. One of them is in John 11. It was the day when Jesus entered into a situation much like today, the day a good friend of his died. And though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he still cried. He cried because he knows how days like today feel, despite all our hopes for tomorrow, all our hopes of resurrection. We have hope but it doesn’t take away our pain. We have faith but it doesn’t take away our tears. So Jesus cries with us. Jesus dies with us.
On days like today we are reminded that death is pursuing us. As we weep for Mikey we can’t help but to weep also for ourselves. We feel somehow both distant from death and close to it all at once. We feel our lives more intensely than normal but only because we recognize, in a moment of clarity, a moment of sobriety, that our day is coming. The death of one ever and again announces the death of us all. And the closer we are to someone snatched away by the iron grip of death, the more of a reality it is for us, the more it seems to call out our name. Mikey was everyone’s best friend. Death feels very real today. It seems to be whispering in all of our ears.
On days like today we are reminded that death is pursuing us, but we must also be reminded that life is pursuing us. Jesus had to walk from Bethany to Jerusalem when he found out that Lazarus had died, to the very city that would have him crucified. But as death pursues us, Jesus is close behind, ready to cry with us, ready to die with us. So we need not talk about today as the day that something good happened, as the day that heaven got another angel, as the day that Mikey began watching over us, or whatever else we may try to say to soften the blow, to romanticize this terrible day, to try to distract ourselves from what Mikey’s death is trying to tell us about our own. The truth is, death is just as bad as we fear. Today is as dark and horrible as it feels. It’s not helpful to pretend otherwise, because none of us feel otherwise. Neither does Jesus. Jesus didn’t remove our tears. He shed them. He didn’t remove our death. He endured it. And it was just as terrible for him as it is for all of us. But Life pursues us at all costs. Jesus pursues us at all costs, even when it costs him his life.
It’s time for all of us to feel with Mikey today. Allow it to sink in your soul. Allow yourself to cry for him, for his family….to cry for yourself, for that matter. Whatever you do, don’t stay in Bethany, keeping a safe distance from the grim reality of today, a reality about our dear friend and a reality about ourselves. Walk toward the tomb and confront it for all that it is. And then, and only then, once you’ve fully entered in, can you say with any real convinction, in the face of that God-damned tomb, those same death-shattering words that Mikey said to me: “He is Risen!”
He is risen, indeed.