This week I am reminded once again that the world is overwhelmingly dark. That death hurts in the deepest parts. That the whole earth churns under the weight of It shouldn’t be like this! The sentence we’ve muttered a hundred times when brains and hearts can’t seem to process the loss of MC: “It’s too much.”
I’m told the body is made of 90 percent water, and I think it’s fair to say that Mary Cathryn’s insides were carbonated—fizzy and lively and friendly. In fact, my Facebook feed is packed with people saying, “MC was my first friend at ___.” That’s what she did—reached out to anyone on the fringe and drew them in. She had a God-given gift for it, and in student ministry, I watched with awe as she worked her magic over and over again. The lonely forgot how to be lonely in Mary Cathryn’s presence. She would make sure you were included, welcomed, and laughing. I noticed from the first day because she did it for me. When my husband first started at that job, I remember vividly the way Mary Cathryn and Sarah Buechner bounced over and welcomed us with an unparalleled and unrelenting bubbly-ness. I was relieved. “This will be fun,” I remember thinking. And it was.
But this week is not like that week. Life is not always fizzy and fun, and we are acutely aware of that today.
When Jesus’s dear friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He didn’t have to, you know. He could have chastised Lazarus’s crying sisters for their lack of faith, said something like, “Mary, Martha — don’t cry! I am going to fix this. I have power over death.” He WAS going to fix it, and He DOES have power over death, but there’s more to Him than that. He’s acquainted with the darkness of death. He knows how to mourn. He loves His friends with His whole heart. I am so grateful for my Jesus, who, despite His power, was overcome with emotion when a loved one died and His friends were in pain. He mourned because death is that tragic. It’s as bad and dark and terrible as this. This ache we feel in our chest? Jesus knows this ache. He knows what it is to lose someone precious and to be overcome with emotion. This ache we carry in our chests today because we are devastated that fizzy, lovely, one-of-a-kind Mary Cathryn hurt so deeply and is gone? This ache makes Him ache, too.
Perhaps he thought particularly of that ache as the nails pierced through His flesh. As the mocking crown was placed upon His head. As he looked in the eyes of His oppressors and heard their taunts, as He stared death in the face. Because don’t you see? HE DIED FOR THIS ACHE. He died so that this ache does not have to live in our chest forever. So that this ache is not the end of the story.
Yes, Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus, but we do not awe Him for His empathy alone. We stand in awe of Him because He is the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE, the very opposite of the death that oppresses and terrifies us. An emotional Jesus said with a strong voice, “Come forth!” and once lifeless Lazarus stepped out of the grave, fully alive.
Later Jesus’s friends would grieve Him as he lay cold in the grave. He had willingly, selflessly, bravely yielded to the full darkness of death. For a time, the world was silent and dark. Nothing made sense. The one who was Life and Light was dead, and it seemed that darkness had won. But then? In the haunting stillness, the ground began to shake. New Lazarus came forth. Jesus stepped out of the grave, fully alive, teaching death that it does not win. Warrior affection, demonstrated at great cost.
But today? Oh how we ache! Oh how everything seems silent and dark and confusing! Life is like that sometimes, and sometimes every cell in our bodies feels like it weighs a hundred pounds. But in these dark moments, dear friend, remember what John said about Jesus: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
There will be one more “Come forth” moment, and we can use it to light the fire of hope when our hearts feel dark:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.
Mary Cathryn knew Jesus, and all of us who knew her don’t doubt it for a second. Mary Cathryn is home is a way that we can’t grasp—a place where the lonely don’t know how to be lonely, where laughter abounds, where no one is on the fringe. She’s together with Light of the World, never again to endure darkness. We will see you again, MC, and we are so grateful you were our friend.