The Holy Gospel According to John, the 11th Chapter:
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." The Gospel of the Lord!
The Last Word… not death but LIFE!
Tears. Tears are referred to in all of today’s Scripture readings.
In the Hebrew scripture, in the book of Isaiah, we read the promise that “The Lord will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” In the New Testament book of Revelation we read that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” These prophecies in the Old and New Testaments are promises for the future… they proclaim the end of the story - that time in which God will wipe away every tear – and death will be no more.
We aren’t there yet. Instead, we are a part of God’s story. And so is Jesus – and Jesus makes all the difference for how we live with tears, death and dying… and how we prepare for that day when God will wipe away every tear – and death will be no more.
But I’m getting ahead of the story. One of my strengths – from the Strengths finder assessment tool is “positivity”. I always see the glass as at least half full! I love to celebrate the new saints – those who have been baptized into Christ’s family. And that is certainly a good thing to do !
But the flip side of positivity is the desire to jump ahead too quickly to the end of the story and the sure and certain promise of resurrection with tears all wiped away and death being no more. I’ve learned that sometimes I – we – have to sit in the sorrow and grief of the real loss that we have felt in our lives before we move on to the glory of resurrection.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t rush to the tomb to release Lazarus. He doesn’t even rush to Lazarus’ side when he first hears that Lazarus is dying. Instead, when he arrives, seemingly “too late,” he mourns, he grieves, he weeps real tears.
In this passage, Jesus teaches me (us) that not only will we experience pain, grief and sorrow, but that He did too. Jesus grieved – and cried – for his friend Lazarus and for his friends Mary and Martha who were grieving too. Jesus grieves and cries real tears because he LOVES them.
There wouldn’t have been any sorrow if Jesus hadn’t loved them and there wouldn’t have been any sorrow if Jesus had simply come and “healed” Lazarus. But instead of simply healing Lazarus, Jesus came into the midst of a grieving family – friends of his – and -- before he gave Lazarus new life-- he first grieved with them. Mary and Martha were stricken with grief – and like so often we do – they said to Jesus, if only you had only been here!
If only… It’s hard not to say those words when we wish with all our heart that the outcome had been different…and that – somehow - we could have done something to protect our loved one or that Jesus would have done something. If only…
We don’t know why some people experience miraculous healing and others die. We don’t know why some people die “too soon” like the Jewish parishioners who were shot during their Sabbath worship just a little over a week ago. But we do know that it hurts when we, and when people we love, experience pain, grief and sorrow. So, like Jesus, we need to take the time to grieve when people that we love die, and, like Jesus, stand beside and comfort our friends, our neighbors, fellow children of God, as they grieve.
Grief is never to be underestimated. Somehow… in our fast-paced world…we tend to think we should “get over it quickly.” After all, the news has moved on... we’ve had the funeral, sent the thank you notes and other things have happened in our lives – and certainly in the lives around us. And yet… especially on a day like today… it is good for us to take some time to remember, to thank God for those whom we have loved who have died… and to grieve our loss. Every death changes something in our world.
But death doesn’t have the last word for Lazarus or for us or for our loved ones who have already died. Instead, so that others may believe, Jesus proclaims: “Lazarus come out!” And Lazarus – although he had been in the tomb for four days – comes out.
It’s a miracle. But it’s more than that. The story of Lazarus foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. And Jesus’ resurrection is why we dare to hope in the promises of new life, of a world without tears, a world in which death will be no more.
We know the end of the story. Yet, we also know that the story is not over. We are a part of God’s story.
Jesus calls Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Lazarus obeys. He comes out – alive! It’s a miracle! But… Lazarus was tightly wrapped in bands of cloth. I imagine that he looked kind of like a mummy. He couldn’t do anything but hobble out of the tomb. So Jesus says to the community of people who are standing there gaping at Lazarus: “Unbind him and let him go!”
God made us for community. It was because of Jesus Christ that Lazarus received new life. But it is with the help of his neighbors that Lazarus was set free to live – and to share the amazing message of Jesus’ love.
Today, as you come to the table to eat Christ’s body and drink Christ’s blood, may you be fed, renewed and reminded of the gift of new life that Jesus has given to you. It is a gift that is meant to strengthen you so that whatever trials or challenges may befall you in this life – you will know that God is with you. And this gift – the gift of faith and trust is meant to be shared. We who are set free to live and love by Jesus can help “unbind” our neighbor, so that all are free to live and to share the love of God. Thanks be to God!
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
All Saints Sunday - November 4, 2018