Never do we feel more powerless than in the face of death, and especially young death. No one knows this more than the Lee family, with the loss of precious little Evie.
This coffin is too small! All life is short, but little Evie’s life was way too short. That is why Dan and Teresa chose this section of Mark’s Gospel for us to read and to be preached. Only Jesus offers hope beyond the grave for Evie, and not just for Evie, but what for the rest of us as well.
In this account, Jairus, a ruler of a synagogue, has a 12 year old daughter. She is seriously ill and on the verge of death. Jairus is used to being in charge. But he now realizes how little control he really has over the things that matter. The situation was so serious and he was so helpless. This ruler—who would not normally have much time for Jesus—swallows his pride, falls at Jesus’ feet, and – pleads an earnest plea to Jesus. Listen to desperation in his words: “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” He is so desperate for her to live, and powerless to do anything about it.
I remember when my son James was three years old. We were at the Darling Harbour fireworks. We were being showered by fireworks, and James was so scared that he pleaded with me, “Daddy, please tell them to stop it.” We were jammed in a crowd. I couldn’t protect him. It was a little example, but I felt so powerless. I was powerless in the situation, but it was not a life and death situation, like that which faced Jairus, and which Dan and Teresa have now experienced.
I remember eight months ago the joy of hearing about Teresa pregnancy. Number four was on the way. Then some time later I got the phone call from Dan, and the joy gave way to grief, for Evie has Edward’s Syndrome. We may not have understood at the time the science of the chromosomal disorder. What we did know was that Evie had a 50% chance of dying before birth, and a 90% chance of dying before her first birthday.
In some cultures, some fathers would not be bothered to fight for their daughter because she was a girl. Not this father Jairus. He was a child of Abraham and so was she. God was clear in the first page of the bible that every man and women—boys or girls, in or out of the womb—are all equally made in God`s image. Jairus pleads earnestly for his daughter, just as the Lee family and the rest of us pleaded earnestly to Jesus for mercy for Evie.
What I love is when Jairus asks Jesus to come and heal his daughter, Jesus first instinct is to go with the father to the girl. While the crowds were pressing in upon Jesus, he will leave the many for the one, a sick year 7 girl. For the one always matters to our saviour. Jesus may have preached to over ten thousand people, but a sick young girl will always get his full attention. But before he arrives, the Father is told that the sick girl is no longer sick: the worst has happened; she has died. While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
We have probably all said stupid things to people in grief—and we’ve all had stupid things said to us in our grief. This would be one example. Whenever I read it, it always sounds so harsh. Notice how they tell this distraught father the news: it’s not that we have some bad news, or that we are so sorry, but your little girl has passed away. Rather, their first response is “Your daughter is dead; don’t waste Jesus’ time—as if Jesus had more important things to do. And I think it’s right to say that no one was more important than this dear little girl, just as no one was more important to Jesus than Evie Lee. Jesus’ calendar had people all over it. Yet Jesus was clear that he’d come to seek and save the lost, that he came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus is a life giver.
We live in a culture where something is right if it gives pleasure and something is wrong if it promotes pain. The Lees knew it was going to be very painful to see Evie stop breathing, sometimes four times in one night, rushing off to hospital again and again, waking up each morning, not knowing if she would be alive. But Dan was clear when he said to me, that, as hard as it would be, “We want as many days with Evie as possible”. God would grant the Lee family 77 precious days with Evie. And it is right that we honor all five of you who make up the Lee family, as you all cared so deeply for Evie.
Overhearing the bad news, Jesus was quick to tell the dad to ignore them. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” For Jesus, death will not be the end. This story will have a different, happy ending, and the deciding factor is faith—which by the way is required by each of us. Trust in Jesus is still the deciding factor if you want hope from the grave. For Jesus, death becomes no more than sleep, and Jairus’ daughter is simply waiting for Jesus to come along and wake her up. And just as Jesus woke up Jairus’ daughter, Jesus promises to wake up all of us who are in Christ on the last day.
That is why Jesus denies these paid mourners their pretend tears. There actually were professionals who were paid to cry when a person died to help create the right atmosphere. Although no one needs to pay us to cry today. Jesus said to the paid mourners, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” And we know these professional mourners shed crocodile tears because they were more than happy to laugh in the face of the father whose girl was still dead.
The idea of raising to life a dead person seemed absurd. And it is absurd unless you are no less than God in the flesh.
Just then, Jesus asks the parents and three of the apostles to come with him into the room. They alone will be the God-appointed witnesses of this miracle. Now watch our Lord at his work. “He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).
Evie’s middle name is Talitha. These were the actual words Jesus spoke, not a translation. The original Aramaic, “Talitha koum”, reminds us that we have an eyewitness account on which Mark’s Gospel is based. Literally, Jesus said, “little lamb, I say to you get up!” Her good shepherd was walking her up from death. And immediately, the girl stood up and began to walk around. It was a miracle. She went from death to life in a moment. At the very moment Jesus spoke those words, the little girl was restored to life. This was no slow improvement over three months.
The Gospels record Jesus performing three resurrections: Lazarus; a widow’s one and only son; and this twelve year old girl. Those who saw the miracle were astonished. They were completely astonished.
And here we are 2000 years later. We too wanted to be completely astonished. But we found out on Friday that Jesus did not heal Evie of her chromosomal disorder in this age as we may have hoped. Jesus decided to give her something far greater. We are thankful that God gave Evie 77 days to bless her parents and brother and two sisters, her grandparents, uncles and aunties, her cousins, her family, her friends, and her church. But most of all, we are more thankful that 77 days will turn into eternity. Jesus will take Evie by the hand and she will be woken up with the words, “Talitha koum!”, “Little Evie, I say to you, get up!” When her eyes open from death, the first face she will see is of our Lord Jesus. What stops this from being wishful thoughts at a sad funeral is that Jesus would himself die and make payment for all our sins and then rise again, never to die again.
Jesus is clear. He said, “I am resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he die and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”
Do you believe this? Dan and Teresa do. They write: “We’ve shed a lot of tears but are comforted by our God who declares resolutely that death is not the end. Jesus himself has conquered the grave and while we grieve and mourn, we don’t do so without hope.”
The Lees are just ordinary Christians with an extraordinary God, a family who grieve and mourn and doubt and struggle, but with a certain hope. That certain hope can be yours if only you would trust this Jesus who gives life.
Our hearts and prayers are with you Dan and Teresa, Maddy, Elijah, and Alethea. To the grand parents, uncles and aunties, cousins, friends and church family, our prayers and love are with you. We truly thank God for the life of Evelyn Lee.