We Have This Hope John 11: 1-45 The Fifth Sunday in Lent April 6, 2014 Jeanne Davies

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1 We Have This Hope John 11: 1-45 The Fifth Sunday in Lent April 6, 2014 Jeanne Davies When I was a young woman living in Portland, Oregon, I knew an older woman in my church community whose husband died of cancer. I was a young woman who had already experienced a lot of trauma in my life. I was empathic and caring. I prayed for my friend s husband and when he passed on, I believed I understood how my friend felt I grieved for her loss. A year later, after moving to Florida, I nursed my father in his home as he died of cancer. After his death, I could not believe the depth of my grief, the agony of my loss. I was stunned to think that there are people all over the world, people walking all around us every day who carry this heavy burden. On a subsequent visit to Portland, I saw my friend at church. And I apologized. I said, Wow. I thought I understood what you were going through but I had NO IDEA. She just nodded and smiled ruefully. In her poem, Heavy, Mary Oliver wrote: I thought I could not go any closer to grief without dying I went closer, and I did not die. Surely God had His hand in this, as well as friends. This is the context into which Jesus steps. His friend, Lazarus is dead. In Jewish burial tradition, Mary and Martha would have carefully tended to their brother s body, washing it tenderly, anointing it with fragrant balm, wrapping him gently and lovingly in cloth. Their 1

2 neighbors would have accompanied them as they laid his body on a bier and carried it to the tomb singing psalms as they went. They would have prayed with Mary and Martha as they laid him in the tomb, and then accompanied them for the reluctant and sorrowful walk home and sat Shivah with them for three days in their home the three days of weeping. Anyone who has lost someone close to them knows that time passes strangely after the death of a loved one. You walk as if in a dream or a nightmare. It is chairos time, a sacred time, not chronos (or clock) time. After my mother died a good friend said to me, Be careful when you are driving. It s a liminal time. It s easy to lose focus and get in an accident. So Jesus walks into this time. He comes when there is no hope Lazarus has been dead for four days. They have sealed the tomb. Jesus has seen illness and sorrow before. But this time it s the death of someone he loved. And so it is different for him And both Mary and Martha said, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And Mary wept And Jesus? Jesus also wept. If Jesus already knew he was going to raise his beloved friend Lazarus from the dead, why did he weep? I believe he wept because he finally realized the depth of sorrow, the abyss of human grief. He wept not only for Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha, but for himself and his death, which was coming all too soon. He wept for all of us who are mortal and face the grief of death. He wept because resurrection isn t a cosmic magic trick that takes all the sorrow away. In Jesus, God finally gets it. God understands. Jesus accompanies Mary and Martha along with the rest of the mourners. And Jesus, Immanuel, God-With-Us, walks with us through life, through death, and beyond. In his commentary N. T. Wright wrote, When [the apostle] Paul says he doesn t want us to grieve like people who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), he doesn t mean that he 2

3 doesn t want us to grieve at all; he means that there are two sorts of grief, a hopeless grief and a hopeful grief. Hopeful grief is still grief. It can still be very, very bitter The Word, through whom the worlds were made, weeps like a baby at the grave of his friend. But as Jesus tells his disciples, Lazarus illness is not one that will end in death. In the end, this is not a story about death but about the power of Jesus to give life. When Jesus asks Martha whether or not she believes that Lazarus will rise, she says that she believes in the resurrection of all on the last day. She believes there will come a day when all of the Jewish people will be resurrected and a new kingdom will be revealed. Jesus response to her is, I AM the resurrection and the life. The time is NOW. Eternity is revealed here in me. I AM the fulfillment of the promises of resurrection made to you. Jesus brings the future vision of the restoration of God s kingdom into the present moment. Chairos and chronos meet. Eternity intersects with the world in the person of Jesus. And in God s restoration, the world is re-made. Justice and peace reign. And death is no more. The bodies of the dead are resurrected because creation, including our bodies, is beloved by God. In Jewish and Christian theology there is no soul without the body body and spirit are inextricably linked and precious in God s sight. Our bodies are an essential part of who we are. I remember spending a lot of time when my mother was dying holding her hands and touching them. My mother s hands played the piano. They cooked my dinner. They rubbed my back when I was sad. Her hands were precious to me. In his book, Undertaking, funeral director Thomas Lynch talks about the sacredness of the body. He recalls a time when a well-meaning deacon reassured a mother that the body of her teenager who died of leukemia was just a shell. The mother slapped him and said, I ll tell you when it s just a shell. From now on and until I tell you otherwise, she s my daughter. Lynch 3

4 says, So to suggest in the early going of grief that the dead body is just anything rings as tinny in its attempt to minimalize as if we were to say that it was just a bad hair day when the girl went bald from chemotherapy. Or that our hope for heaven on her behalf was based on the belief that Christ raised just a body from the dead. What if, rather than crucifixion, he d opted for suffering low self-esteem for the remission of sins? What if, rather than just a shell, he d raised his personality, say, or The Idea of Himself?... Easter was a body and blood thing, no symbols, no euphemisms, no half measures. Creation and our bodies are precious to God, and God does not abandon them. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead as a sign of God s love for us and for the world. By sign, I don t mean a signpost, like a traffic sign something that points to something else. By sign, I mean a revelation, an in-breaking of the sacred, a place where the sacred and the mundane meet. As Martha said, Jesus is the Messiah, the One coming into the world. Jesus came into the world into our pain, sorrow, and death. And with Jesus came the new creation and its resurrection. Eternity has come to the present through Jesus. I was recently talking with a friend about the strange things that seem to happen after a loved one dies. People report seeing animals in unusual ways or circumstances butterflies in their car or hawks flying down the sidewalk in front of their house. Objects seem to appear that are connected in some way to the person they have lost. People report seeing visions of their loved ones who have passed on, hearing their voice, or being visited by them in their dreams. Rather than being coincidences, I think these are little glimpses of holiness of God working in the world. Those who have them cherish these sacred moments as evidence that their loved one goes on. 4

5 We are all already dying. Until the world is re-made, there is not one of us who will be spared the grave. But linked to Jesus Christ, we already share in eternal life. In Romans 8:6-11 Paul said, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. We are connected to the resurrection power through Jesus Christ. We share in his death and resurrection by virtue of our baptism. We are the first fruits of a restored world. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus demonstrates that he has the power over life and death. Jesus overcomes the power of death in the past, present, and future - and in all eternity. And this eternal life, this resurrection, is not just at the time of our death but now. Jesus defeats all of our human instances of finitude, all of the frailties to which we are susceptible. There are many ways to live a life that is like walking dead through sin or through sorrow. When we throw our lot in with Jesus, we gain the life that truly is life. Like Jesus, we are called to walk in the world as lifegivers, not death-dealers. It s interesting that the religious leaders in this story are on the side of death. When they find out that Jesus has raised Lazarus, what do they do? Do they rejoice that this miracle has happened? No, they decide that Jesus must be executed because he is attracting too many followers. Lazarus new life leads to Jesus death. And in the next chapter, the religious leaders decide they should kill Lazarus too make sure he s really dead this time. We who have inherited eternal life should be careful to not make the same mistake. Do we live in life-giving ways? Do we cherish creation and each other as sacred and beloved? For God s intention is not merely personal salvation but corporate salvation the salvation of all creation. We have already inherited eternal life need not worry about our present or our future. Our future is assured! And that frees us to live for others. 5

6 Peace activist, John Dear, in his book Lazarus, Come Forth! writes, We can live today without fear of death. We are free to renounce it, free to confront it, free to undermine the culture built upon it, free to enjoy the fullness of God s life within and among us. Life is short but our survival is guaranteed. So we can risk standing in solidarity with all, especially the forsaken and even [our enemies]. We can live life to the full and resist the powers of death, knowing that our resurrection has already begun. This is the key to the fullness of life here and now. And it s a foretaste of eternity, at home in Jesus circle, at peace with creation, our hearts healed in the aura of his love. We don t have to wait for another time to experience resurrection. It s not something that happens only after we die. We are transformed now and will be more fully in the future in the day when everything will be made new. Sighing and suffering will flee away (Isaiah 35:10) and we will all be made whole. Until that day we will participate in God s work, binding up wounds, healing the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, consoling those who mourn, working for peace, calling for justice, and serving the poor. Like Mary, we kneel at the feet of Jesus and anoint him with fragrant ointment in an act of service and devotion, not only in recognition of his honor but also his need. At the same time we proclaim the Good News that God s new reign, in which all will be restored, has already been revealed here among us! We have this great hope through Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God. 6

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