Meditation on John 11:17-27
Pastor Karen Crawford
In Memory of Joan Grace Schlegel
Nov. 29, 1926-Feb. 24, 2021
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
I first met Joan a little more than a year ago, shortly after her sister, Margaret, had died. Joan and Margaret, who went by Peggy, were very close—as much friends as sisters. I brought Joan Communion that day of our first meeting in her living room, and she shared about missing Peggy. She and her sister used to talk on the phone every day.
I later discovered that it was because of Peggy that Joan met Edward F. Schlegel, II—Ed or EF, for short. Peggy persuaded Joan to bring her to an Ohio State dance that Joan didn’t want to attend. At the dance, EF saw her, approached, and introduced himself. He invited her to dance. She was afraid to tell him her real name, but ended up, by the end of the evening, giving him the actual phone number of where she was staying with her 3 aunts. Sure enough, EF called the number, asking for the fictitious name Joan provided. The story, I imagined, has stirred laughter many times over the years, retold by family and friends.
Peggy’s loss stirred memories of other life-changing losses for Joan, including Ed’s passing from leukemia on Jan. 13, 1983. They had done so much together and had been married since she was a 20-year-old nursing student at Ohio State. She was so young when she got married that her father had to sign for her—and he did so reluctantly. I hear he offered her a piano if she turned EF down. When EF became a dentist and was first starting out in Coshocton, they couldn’t afford a car or a home of their own. They lived with his mother and he walked to his office on 6th Street. Joan was his receptionist, assistant, and bookkeeper.
When EF was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Joan went with him to Fort Gordon, Georgia. This is where their son, Denley, was born. After EF served in the Army for 2 years, the Schlegels returned to Coshocton and EF set up his dental practice, once again, this time on 7th Street. They worked together there until the late 1970s, when Ed moved his office to Fairy Falls Drive. In addition to their work together, they enjoyed an active social life with other couples in a supper club for many years. Joan also liked to play bridge and volunteered with the Friends of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, Junior Women’s Club and as a Pink Lady at the hospital.
Joan and EF were longtime members of The Presbyterian Church. This was EF’s worship home first. Steve says that his dad joined the Presbyterians because of the orchestra. EF’s mother was a piano teacher, EF played violin, and his brother played bassoon. Joan joined the church on July 13, 1947, four months after she married EF. She served as a Sunday School teacher for 10 years or more with Eleanor Magness and later became a trustee.
Joan mentioned her ongoing sadness over the death of her eldest son, Edward, in 2006. Losing a child is not something from which a parent ever fully recovers. Now with Peggy gone, Joan felt there was a big hole in her life. What would she do now? she asked, her voice catching with emotion. She was mostly isolated at home, even before the pandemic, though she kept busy keeping the books for the family business, “helping Stephen,” she said, who also took care of her. When Peggy’s daughter began to call her, the grief for her sister was a little lighter, a little easier to bear.
I began to call Joan after that first in-person visit. And when I called, I made sure to talk about ordinary, everyday things. For we have a God who cares about every little thing that we care about and I wanted her to feel His presence in her life. We always ended our conversation with prayer, thanking God for His many blessings and especially for her family. She loved her family so much! We prayed for healing and wholeness, body, mind, and soul and that God would continue to use us for His glory and watch over and care for Joan, His precious child. The Lord remained with her in her time of suffering and grief. Nothing would ever separate her from His love.
In our gospel reading in John, Martha has already reached out to her friend, Jesus, to return to her home in Bethany and heal her brother Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, as she said in her note sent by messenger. But Christ took too long in responding. When he finally got to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. The tightknit, Jewish community gathered around Martha and her sister Mary. The burden of grief was shared by the entire village and wasn’t something that a family or individuals carried alone, just as today the entire community of faith shares the burden of grief at Joan’s passing.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha says, running out to meet him, before he reaches their home. She can’t wait! And I think she wants to speak with him privately, without her sister, Mary, overhearing. Mary, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet when he came to their house for dinner and hung on his every word, was overwhelmed by grief when her brother died. Martha wants answers, though she doesn’t frame her words as questions. “Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died. But even now,” she says, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus says. Martha misunderstands. Yes, he would rise “in the resurrection on the last day,” she says, with no expectation that Christ would raise her brother on that very day.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
His question stirs us to recall his conversation with another disciple—with Simon Peter in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,” Martha says, “the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” In her answer, she sounds like Peter, proving to all of us that Jesus wants to reveal his true identity to everyone who seeks him—not just the original 12 male disciples whom he called to follow him.
Jesus will perform a miracle that day that will foreshadow the cross and his own resurrection on the third day. Jesus will weep for Lazarus, outside his tomb, before praying aloud so the crowd would hear him. After commanding the stone be rolled away, Jesus would call for Lazarus to come out of the tomb and be unbound from his graveclothes.
I have often wondered what it was like for Mary and Martha to have their brother restored to them after they watched him die, anointed him and said goodbye, and laid him in a tomb. What was it like for the young man when he was brought back to life? Did he remember anything that had come before? Was it like being born again, starting over as someone new?
Certainly, nothing would be the same for him again. For if one no longer fears death, one would be free to live life to its fullest—knowing that this is not all there is and that the One who created us is also the One who is busy recreating us, more and more, into the image of His Son.
Yes, this is what I am telling you today. This is not all there is and we do not have to fear death or be overwhelmed by the troubles in this world.
On this day, when we honor and give thanks for the life of Joan Schlegel and comfort one another with our hope in Jesus, our Messiah, the Son of God calls to each one of us to come out of the dark places and into His wonderful light. Some of us are not living life to its fullest. Sometimes, we are living in fear of things that may never happen, wasting time worrying about earthly things and distracted by suffering and trials, like Martha. And yet we are still clinging to a God of miracles, for our faith is a gift from the Lord.
Whatever it is that has us bound in graveclothes in this world and is holding us back from a life of joy and freedom, Christ, our healer, the man of sorrows, wants to ease our burden of grief and worry. His yoke is easy, his burden light, as we seek to follow Him and learn from Him, day by day. The one who became sin for us and conquered death when he was raised from the tomb offers to each of us—precious children of God—new life from the moment we first believe.
Our Savior is speaking to Martha and to all Christ’s lovers and followers, all who are ready to accept God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and life for all eternity.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus is saying to all of us. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”