Lazarus: A Reason to Hope
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11: 21
In John’s Gospel, you can clearly hear the pain in Martha’s, and then in Mary’s voice; the longing; even the accusation:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When you’re in grief – when the pieces of your life lie shattered around you so that you can’t figure out which one to pick up first, let alone how you’re going to get them to stick back together again, the world itself seems to stop spinning and time slows. Three days of grief can feel like a month of regular time.
I don’t mean to sound heretical, but some people think this was the one story where Jesus may have taken things a bit too far. Clearly, Jesus didn’t need to be there to heal Lazarus. He healed the Centurion’s servant, a man he didn’t even know, from the middle of the road without breaking stride. How much easier must it have been for him to do the same for someone he loved?
Besides, aren’t there perks to being on the inside? Shouldn’t having a good relationship with Jesus earn you some sort of extra favor? The lament rings clearly through the sisters’ pain: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
What do you do when you feel like even God has abandoned you?
We know that Jesus can heal Lazarus; but Jesus chooses not to. John’s Gospel tells us Jesus delayed for God’s glory, but the delay doesn’t feel glorious at all.
Jesus is so quick to help so many others, that we know there must be something else going on here, something important. Something so important that it was worth delaying for three days, even if that meant hurting people he loved.
Jesus needed those three days because without them we might have missed the point. Without them, his actions might have felt like business as usual, just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill miraculous healing.
But it’s been three days and healing is not an option here. Lazarus is gone. He is completely dead. Many Jews of that time believed that a soul hung around a body for three days before moving on. This meant that up until that third day, something might be done. A miraculous healing might occur. But Jesus stalls, so any type of healing, even a miraculous one, is completely off the table.
But this isn’t a healing. It’s a resurrection.
Jesus says to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. 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?’
It’s an odd thing to ask a grieving person, but Jesus needs Martha to understand. The three days weren’t for naught. There’s reason to hope. There’s a method to the madness. More important, there is some unbelievably good news here.
You can hear it clearly in Jesus’ words, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. It is as if through his language Jesus is promising this pending resurrection and the life to come to Martha not once, but twice.
But what if there’s more to it than that. What if Jesus isn’t making a literary repetition, isn’t underlining the importance of the life to come with his use of language, but is instead making a two-part promise: a promise of unexpected gifts – unexpected life – both in the life to come and now?
What if, as part of this promise, Jesus is offering countless mini-resurrections – times when we will die and be reborn, throughout the whole of our life, until we get to the final death and resurrection at the end of our lives? This is why the three days mattered.
Nadia Bolz Weber explores this idea in her book about being a pastor. We are all in need of resurrection, she says, both in the final sense and in the immediate sense.
God has an amazing way of reaching into our tombs, Bolz Weber continues, and shining light on dark places. God has a way of resurrecting us from graves that keep us entombed. God just keeps loving us back to life over and over again.
This is why the three days were worth it. Yes, Jesus could have healed Lazarus from afar, but he needed Mary and Martha – and us – to realize the lengths and depths to which God would go for sake of love. That there was nothing out of God’s reach. And that means that we are never alone, even if we feel like we are, because hope was and is shining and always will shine through the darkness because there is no place God’s love cannot go – even if we’ve put a giant stone in the way.
As we move through this last week of Lent and prepare for Holy week, even in the midst of unknown times and great anxiety, I invite you to be surprised by empty tombs, surprised by the thing you never saw coming. Be surprised by God’s love showing up in unexpected places, surprised at being filled and comforted by unexpected grace. Be surprised that a relationship you thought was dead is not, surprised that a part of you, long dormant, might walk again. Surprised, as we say, at empty tombs and the suddenness of dawn.
Lent Spirituality The Episcopal Church Clergy Homily Lazarus Lent Rector's Lent & Holy Week Series The Rev. Charles C. McCoart Jr.
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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog
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