I prayed a prayer at the beginning of January over a cup of good coffee, journal in hand, as I looked ahead into 2022:
Lord, how do we serve and reach out effectively for you when we’re nearly two years into a pandemic?
I’m still praying and digesting that prayerful question.
I never make New Year’s resolutions – I’m allergic to them. Who needs a list of things to fail at and then beat yourself up over? Not me. But I do look ahead prayerfully each year, asking God what my service for Him is to look like. And I can’t shake off what I felt was God’s answer. I was pointed to some verses from John 11 where Jesus responds to the death of his friend Lazarus. I felt God speaking to me that one of the key ways we are to keeping serving and reaching out is by remembering two things:
Compassion is at the heart of God
Compassion is Mission
John 11: 32-36
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’
Compassion is at the heart of God
Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. His friend had died and so he cried. He saw the pain of others at their loss and so he cried. He loved people and was moved by their pain as well as his own. We serve a God who knows about pain and who feels compassion.
And when we talk about Jesus’ emotion we say, ‘how wonderful”!’ that we see the humanity of Jesus displayed. We say we see the humanness of Jesus, that he feels emotion as we do. True.
But this isn’t just an indication of Jesus’ humanity. That pain and emotion is in the very heart of our divine God. If Jesus is feeling pain, then it’s a sign of his humanity but his divinity too. He was fully human but also fully God.
We’re not just seeing a flesh and blood human in tears but the eternal Word-made-flesh in tears. The word through whom the world was made, weeps at the grave of his friend. This is the mystery of John’s gospel. The Word who is God in John 1 can cry with the world’s crying.
God feels pain. God hurts. He is moved with compassion.
Jesus doesn’t sweep in and declare that tears aren’t needed, and that Lazarus is about to be raised even though Jesus knows what he is about to do. This is the man of sorrows, sharing our pain, feeling compassion.
I find this powerful and helpful as we think about our response to the needs around us nearly two years into this pandemic.
People are worn out and worn down. Alongside all the big scale stuff like bereavement, mental health and job insecurity there is an exhaustion and weariness unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Covid fatigue is absolutely A Thing. The World Health Organisation acknowledge the implications of what they call Pandemic Fatigue. They define it as ‘emotional exhaustion with the demands of life during the Covid Crisis’. We are nearly two years into a generation-changing event and we can’t just get-on-and-carry-on; we need to acknowledge the impact and let that shape how we serve.
Jesus has compassion for us in 2022 with all we carry. In our own covid fatigue.
When we are asking how we can serve people around us and be good news, I think God would say to us that part of the answer is to weep with those who weep. To acknowledge the season that we are in.
Yes, we have incredible hope in the gospel. Jesus will come back and put the world right. One day there will be no more sorrow or suffering. We’ve had a sneak peak at the end of the story and it’s good news.
But Jesus knew there was good news in the end for Lazarus, and still He wept.
That phrase in our NIV bibles – v 33 deeply moved in Spirit and troubled – doesn’t quite do justice to the language.
Deeply moved: the Greek word is embrimaomai
It can be used of snorting in animals, like when a horse might snort. And in humans it refers to anger. A better translation might be ‘he became angry in spirit and agitated’. And then at the invitation to come and see Lazarus (v34) he wept with grief.
In a gospel where life is one of the key themes, death is the enemy. Remember Jesus saying in John 10 that he came to give us life in all its fulness? It’s likely that the enemy, death, is the focus of his anger and agitation. It troubles him. That his Father’s fullness of life is at odds with this enemy death.
And his grief is genuine as he sees those around him weeping. This seems to be what true compassion is. A justified anger about what’s not right in the world around us and a genuine pain, sadness and empathy for those who are suffering.
Compassion is Mission
Compassion isn’t just metaphorically sitting stroking someone’s hair and saying, ‘there there’. It’s a proactive stand of faith, speaking out and getting alongside those in need.
Compassion IS mission.
Compassion weeps, but also acts. If we are going to follow Jesus and be more like him it will be painful and costly. But we will see the glory of God.
Jesus says later to Martha:
‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ (John 11:40)
If you believe you will see the glory of God.
As we stand in compassion with those around us into 2022 we’re not treading water until we can get back to the mission. Roll on this being over so we can get on with the real mission stuff again. No, this IS the mission.
What a thought that if we show the compassion of Jesus to those around us – weeping with those who weep, standing in belief against all that is wrong in the world, acting on their behalf, then new life comes. People will see the glory of God.