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Shoulder High

Posted by chesterlanducc on July 8, 2017 at 8:30 AM

For this service on relationships, we read three stories about Martha and Mary coming from the books of Luke and John as part of the liturgy throughout the service.  

I set about for today’s reflection looking for something in the stories of Martha and Mary that I had not previously recognized or understood. As we have read this morning, there are three stories of these two incredibly important disciples in scripture—a story of them hosting Jesus and the disciples in their home in Bethany—a story of them being witness to the resurrection of their brother Lazarus which foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus (where they both scorn Jesus for not being there to heal and save thier borther's life), and finally, a story about how they provide Jesus and his disciples sanctuary and hospitality in the days leading up to his crucifixion—Mary even preparing his body for death with her tears and ointments on his feet, drying his feet with her hair.

Amidst these stories I noticed one particular fact I have never paid attention to—both women are portrayed very differently in scripture, Martha is the head of the household, the responsible one, the one who oversees hospitality for Jesus and the disciples. Martha is portrayed as the one who does what needs to get done and doesn’t ask or expect much in return. While both Martha and Mary are both passionate about Jesus and his ministry in their own ways, Mary is an extravert; she is with Jesus, engaging Jesus, interacting with him, pouring out herself literally to him in acts of love.

The odd thing is that despite their differences, in the story of the death of Lazarus, scripture quotes both women as saying the exact same thing separately, apart from one another at different times… “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

So given how scripture goes out its way to describe their differences, I was intrigued by their common response to the death of their brother. Now, there is only so much you can understand about scripture by reading it. You can seek to better understand the social and cultural context of the story, etc… but often, to make sense of scripture as it relates to our lives today, we might relate it to a personal experience we have had, or to another similar story that might help us to understand the scripture in a different light. Since I am not a woman and I don’t have a sister, I found a story that also talks about sisters dealing with grief. Listening to this story helped me to relate to the story of Martha and Mary, and to be open to God’s truth that speaks to us in scripture.

Here’s the story from Mary Kate O’Flanagan, titled Carry Him Shoulder High I invite you listen carefully…

What truths speak to us in these two stories that might lead us in our journey towards oneness with God.

1. The death of the father of these six sisters disrupts their relationships with one another, as well as their confidence as “strong women”, as we might imagine could have also been the case with Martha and Mary losing their brother Lazarus and later Jesus. How does the trauma of losing a loved one affect the relationships of those who are still living?

2. Resurrection occurs in both stories. In the story of Mary Kate, it is a mysterious phone message that is resent from her father’s phone to one of her sister’s saying: “I’m home now Becks, you can call whenever you want”. Where is God and the notion of resurrection to be found amidst the grief of having lost someone who is central to our identity and our faith in God?

3. We might imagine the sisters being all different in many ways, but they all have the same response to the funeral director (that they can and should carry their father’s casket)—just as Mary and Martha both have the same response to Jesus about their brother’s death. Is there something in the midst of grief or tragedy that perhaps, sometimes, draws us together in unity?

4. Mary Kate’s sister asks… Do we have the audacity to believe? This is perhaps similar to how Martha and Mary must have felt? Do we have the audacity to believe in the face of significant loss?

5. Mary Kate’s sister then asks… So what do we do now? And Mary Kate responds: “We tell the others.” Today’s scripture tells us that this is the point of the Lazarus story in—that those who witness the resurrection have faith and tell others. Do we have the courage to tell others our stories of resurrection—assuming we have them?

6. And finally, Mary Kate ends with… “And that’s how my father gave me back the only thing I need to walk through this world unafraid, my five sisters. Do we think Jesus did this with Lazarus? Might this also be true about the story of the resurrection of Jesus (regardless of if we read these stories literally or metaphorically)? What might this mean for us in our faith journey as we experience loss?

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9:22 AM on September 26, 2017 
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10:23 PM on October 7, 2017