SERMON 4/11/10 Lent 5A
Mary and Martha were in the midst of a family tragedy. Their beloved brother Lazarus had become very ill, and the two sisters were sending word for Jesus to come. They expected him to come, but he delayed. When Jesus and the disciples arrived, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. When the sisters saw Jesus, their greeting had a tone of complaint, “If you had only been here.” Their grief and despair included nuances of disappointment. At times, the circumstances of our lives are filled with moments when we say, “If you had only been here.” The car accident, the life-threatening or debilitating illness, the sudden discovery of personal financial disaster, the reality of broken family relationships; all of these events bring about fear and anxiety. In moments like these, death, physical, emotional, relational deaths loom and seem to have power over our lives. Many of us have cried the same words of Martha and Mary, “Lord, if you had only been here.”
A complaint over Jesus’ supposed inattentiveness was evident in their greeting, but there is a subtle nuance often overlooked. “If you would have been here, my brother would not have died.” Their faith was that Jesus’ mere presence would have altered the day’s tragic events. Then they exclaimed, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” They believed that Jesus still had the power to alter the tragic event. In the midst of the death of their brother, both sisters knew Jesus had the power over life and death.
When we face moments of heartbreak in our lives, when we from the depths of our sorrow cry, “If you had only been here,” do we believe that Jesus has the power to bring about new life in the midst of tragedy? This is something with which we all struggle. I lose sight sometimes that I need to surrender in those moments of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, and humbly trust that Jesus has the power to breathe into us the spirit of peace. There are times I am sure, that we all need to be reminded that we can live fully into the promise of resurrection. New life in Christ means we embrace the promise of Jesus, “those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Resurrection is both a time in the future, when all the dead will rise again, but it is also a present reality today.
“If only you had been here Jesus.” Life is co-mingled with peaks and valleys. In the valley, we may say, “Lord, if only you would make this situation perfect or make me perfect, life would be grand. If only the messiness of this specific situation would go away, I could be in blissful peace.” Have you ever thought like that? Life is obviously not perfect, because there are valleys. On the journeys we travel, our dark tombs of fear and trepidation emerge, but Jesus calls us out of these putrid tombs. Lazarus died, and after four days, he lay in a putrid tomb, but this was not the end of his life. In Lazarus being raised, Jesus gave us a foreshadowing of the decisive power that Jesus has over death physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational. In Christ, God has the power to raise us to new life every day. Jesus called Lazarus from his tomb and Jesus calls us from our tombs. Through an unfathomable love, a love that shares our dark tombs of life, a love that cries with us in despair, Jesus calls us to new life.
We can’t forget that on that particular day, Jesus wept. He experienced the grief of the brokenhearted. The Psalmist proclaims, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God with us, Emmanuel went so far to experience the depth of human suffering to include even the tomb. In Lazarus’ rising, we see a foreshadowing of Jesus’ power over live and death, and through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, we see clearly that power revealed. The cross gives us hope that God enters our sometimes putrid, broken lives and breathes the fresh air of grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and love.
On a particular day in Jesus’ ministry, Lazarus was raised to new life, but in a way, so was Martha, Mary, and those grieving with them. They all were healed from the broken heart, despair, grief and tears of loss as Lazarus emerged from that tomb. Verses 25 and 26 of today’s gospel, is the heart of the narrative, “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.” Our hope is in the promises of Christ’s power over life and death. In his own death and resurrection, Jesus decisively altered the human experience of life and death. The power of death’s sting looms over us as burden that seems too great to bear, but in Christ, we have the promise that God’s love can and does overcome death’s power to separate us from God.
As we approach Holy Week, we will face some of the questions of our faith as they relate to Christ’s death and resurrection. Next week, we will wave palms and shout Hosanna to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, and then in the liturgy dramatically shifts and we experience the Passion Gospel and the death that awaited Jesus on the cross. As we all know, the story does not end there, because the love that brought God present with us in Christ, remains powerfully present beyond the tomb. We can live in the promise of life with God, because in Christ, death is denied the power over one’s life with God.
Hear Our Lord’s words, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus is the power that determines our existence, not the power of death. Jesus way of life, is the reality of God’s promises revealed. Love, mercy, justice, healing, reconciliation, mercy and forgiveness lived out in Jesus Christ points us to new life. This radical love gives us hope to face the tragic moments, the valleys, the putrid tombs of our lives, because we know, like Mary and Martha knew, that Jesus has the power over life and death. Our life with God is no longer influenced by the power of the sting of death; our life with God is decisively determined to last beyond death: physical, emotional, or relational. With this promise of new life, both now and in when Our Lord returns, we who believe in Jesus can now live our lives in peace, hope, and the certainty that God’s love never ends. God is with us, God cries with us, God calls us out of the putrid tomb and into the light of love, mercy and grace.