I once belonged to a church that experts assumed was in the last stages of its life. A small church, it seated perhaps 100, but often held far fewer—around a dozen, maybe twenty. Its aging congregation was out of touch with current church trends. They’d been told to hang a screen, form small groups, sing contemporary praise-and-worship songs. They’d also been told to prepare themselves for a fate befalling many churches like theirs: permanent closure.
A church member told me this years after the bleak diagnosis. Since then, a bit of a revival had occurred, with young adults and families joining the church. The congregation was small, yes, but seemed on the cusp of thriving. The church member said that when consultants warned the congregation to prepare for death those years ago, a brighter future seemed laughable.
In the midst of a bleak scenario, joy can seem impossible. Such was the case when Jesus enters Jairus’ home and finds the synagogue leader’s daughter surrounded by people who are mourning her death.
“The child is not dead,” Jesus declares, “but sleeping” (v. 39). Like Sarah hearing God’s promise to form a child in her aged womb, the crowd laughs. They don’t yet imagine that life can spring from so unlikely a source.
I’ve often assumed that Jesus raises the girl from death—that “sleeping” is both a euphemism for death and a belief in its impermanence. Now I wonder if her father and community were so filled with worry and sadness they could not see the quiet signs of life in her. I wonder if the first miracle is Jesus’ ability to recognize life where others see only death. And I wonder how much more could thrive if we could see with those eyes.
What signs of life are we missing in a seemingly hopeless situation?
God, may we see life and hope even in the deepest valleys. Amen.