First Sunday in Lent
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Sunday, February 18th, 2018
Loving God, even in the midst of death, you bring life, even as you weep with us in our grief. Help us to experience the abundant life that comes only from you, swallowing up the sting of death, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are many things to be found in today’s gospel, some of which are more frivolous than others. For example, the answers to at least two Bible trivia questions are there. The first one is, what is the shortest verse in the Bible?... [Jn. 11:35 – Jesus wept (RSV) / Jesus began to weep (NRSV)] Second question: Who died twice and has three tombs?... [Lazarus – Bethany, Cyprus & France] So much for trivia, for the story itself is deadly serious.
While it is the story of the raising of Lazarus, it is also a story of grief. Martha, in particular, is at the centre of this story and gives us an example of hopeful faith in the midst of grief. Don’t get me wrong, though. She is still grieving. There is frustration and maybe even some anger in her voice when she first greets Jesus. “Why weren’t you here, Jesus? I know that you could have healed Lazarus if you had been here! Why did he have to die?” These are like the words behind her words, and sound like so many others who grieve the loss of loved ones.
However, Martha’s hopeful faith shows up in the words “even now.” “Even now,” she says to Jesus, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him” (Jn. 11:22). Still, when Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, she doesn’t dare to hope that it could happen there and then. Instead, her mind immediately goes to the end of all things when the dead will be raised. Jesus, however, brings her back to the present. “I AM the resurrection and the life,” he says (Jn. 11:25). Those who put their faith in him will live, even though they die. And then Martha makes an amazing declaration, even in the midst of her grief. She confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (Jn. 11:27).
Martha dares to believe in Jesus, even though he allowed her brother to die. Her sister Mary, though, grieves differently. She was so broken-hearted that she stayed at home and didn’t even come out to greet Jesus. In fact, she doesn’t come until Jesus asks her to come, and then she falls down at his feet weeping. She, too, wants to know why Jesus wasn’t there. Why didn’t he come sooner? Why didn’t he heal their brother? Have any of you ever asked those types of questions?...
We ask, perhaps, because we believe that Jesus could have done something – could have answered our prayers for healing – could have prevented death or tragedy from happening. Yet, sometimes he does not. Sometimes he does not, and he weeps. He weeps not for himself but for us. He weeps not for his own loss, but with compassion for the losses of others.
It is an interesting question in this gospel story as to why Jesus weeps when he already knows what he is going to do. Certainly, it shows his compassion for Mary and Martha in the midst of their grief. However, it could also show his love and compassion for Lazarus as the bystanders suggest. Father Kamal, who showed us Lazarus’ tomb at Bethany, suggests that Jesus weeps because he knows what he is asking Lazarus to return from. He is asking Lazarus to leave the presence of God and come back to a world where the religious leaders are going to want to murder him. Either way, though, Jesus has compassion for those he loves.
This past week, there was an outpouring of grief in Parkland, Florida as yet another high school shooting spree unfolded. The next day, there was a picture in the Free Press of a grieving mother hugging her daughter. What struck me about this picture is that you can see an ashen cross on the mother’s forehead. It was, after all, Ash Wednesday the day that the shooting took place. As I thought about Martha’s hopeful faith in the midst of her grief, I wondered if there was any hopeful faith there for this mother. Is there any, “Even now, Lord, I know what you can do”?
Even now, Lord, I know that you have the power to bring life out of death. Even now, I know that you are here, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Even now, Lord, I know that you can heal. Even now, Lord, I know that you can work for good. Are we able to believe these things even in the midst of grief?
God, of course, does not always bring people back from the dead. After all, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. However, in the case of Lazarus, it was a sign for all to see of who Jesus is. It is also, in the gospel of John, the beginning of the end for Jesus. Jesus’ journey to the cross begins in earnest after this miracle, as immediately the religious leaders start plotting how to get rid of him.
For this reason, it is entirely appropriate to hear this story close to the beginning of Lent, for from here on we hear about Jesus’ road to the cross. In fact, it is spread out a little bit this year, as we will hear parts of the Passion Narrative on the Sundays leading up to Holy Week. While some might consider this to be a bit morbid, it is simply a reflection of the things that continue to happen on our journey through this world. And, in the midst of whatever we are going through, the promise of Jesus remains:
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 (Jn. 11:25-26).
Thanks be to God! Amen.
First Sunday in Lent (NL 4) John 11:1-44
February 18, 2018
St. Luke’s Zion Lutheran Church
Pastor Lynne Hutchison
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