John 11:44 – The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The enveloping presence of COVID-19 even shifted the way we grieve. For thousands of years, we have almost fearlessly been able to gather in the physical presence of beloveds, feel their embraces and touches on our skin, and share stories that take our breath away. For the first time spanning more than a calendar year, breath is the very thing that gives us great pause to gather, recognizing that being full of it used to provide reason enough to be together. Our faces bound with strips of cloth, we too come out.
Like us living in this pandemic, I imagine that those Jesus charged to unbind this dead man too had mixed feelings. For they certainly had loved ones who were not brought back to life. Grieving their own losses, Jesus tasked them to unbind him and let him go. This dead man was not bound with the intent to be unwrapped. The people in attendance were not present with intent to witness someone being brought back to life, nonetheless participate in getting him out of something he was never imagined to come back from. In their grief they were invited to place their hands on a life they had not imagined would live again. The dead man, I’m sure, wrapped in the cloth, his breathing belabored, his hearing deafened, his voice muffled, could not have known that the hands touching him were as surprised as he was. He came back − one among graves of many.
Jesus’ command, grace amidst grief, is an invitation that suggests that sorrow is not all that is present. In the Greek text, Jesus’ commands imply something more. The written words permit this to be heard aloud, “Release him, do not hinder him, forgive him, and let him freely go wherever he wishes.” As our tomorrows come, in the simultaneous reality of grief and grace, what must we release? Whom must we forgive, for passing away or continuing to live? Whom must we let go freely where they wish, even after helping them get their lives together in a time where we may have been the persons carrying them the most? What must we do to be together without being together? Release. Forgive. Let.
Gracious God, release us from the dominance of seeing only one option. Help us realize that forgiveness is discovering that what occurred does not have as much power over us as it did on yesterday. Let us embrace an invitation to something beyond our grief…and if we cannot embrace this invitation, let us hold onto it until…