11/4/2018 All Saints’ Sunday The text is John 11:32-44.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Long ago, a family lived in Bethany, a village near the City of Jerusalem. It was the kind of family we rarely see today, but one that was fairly common a generation or two ago – a family made up of unmarried or perhaps widowed siblings (in this case, a family of a brother and two sisters). You probably know their names – Lazarus, Martha and Mary – and of all the families in the Bible, we know that Jesus was especially close to them. So you would think that Jesus would keep them in his special care and respond more quickly to their needs than to those of strangers. But, the Lord plays no favorites and the Lord knows more about our needs than we ourselves. So, when the word was given to him that Lazarus was gravely ill, although his sisters expected that Jesus would interrupt his travels to return and heal Lazarus, Jesus didn’t just drop what he was doing and run to his aid. In fact, we are told that Jesus actually spent two more days where he was before meandering in the family’s direction.
When Jesus finally arrives, he is too late to perform a healing. Lazarus is dead and buried. And Martha lets Jesus know about it in no uncertain terms for her first words to him were: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” There was no polite greeting, no “Shalom,” no “I’m so glad you’ve come;” just this: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In one sense, Martha’s greeting was a stirring testimony of faith. She believed that Jesus would have made a difference – that he who had opened the eyes of the blind and restored withered limbs could surely have taken care of her brother’s illness. But her statement was also a complaint; in truth, an accusation. Quite clearly, Martha was saying, “What kept you so long? If you had hurried a bit or had left some of your other pressing business, you could have spared us the loss of our dear brother.” In other words, “Jesus, you’re late. It’s nice of you to have come, but you’re too late.” According to Martha, who wanted her brother to live, Jesus’ timing was off.
Now time is important to all of us. That’s why we wear watches and have calendars on our desks, our walls, our computers and our iPhones. We like to eat at certain times. Most of us work on predictable schedules and try to go to bed and to arise at given times. And when the time changes, like this week, or when we fly cross country, our entire internal clock can be tossed off balance.
Time is important for we know that it is limited. There are no more than 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. And we also know that time is important when it comes to issues of life and death. The earlier the diagnosis of an illness, the greater the chances of recovery. You can only live so long without taking a breath of air, so long without water and food, so long without immediate help if an artery should be severed. Life has limits governed by time. And Jesus simply was out of time, too late, to do anything for Lazarus – or so said Martha. Lazarus was dead….and in his grave for four days – so he’s not merely dead, he is totally dead – he is dead to the point of having his body giving off the stench of decaying flesh.
In anguish, the grieving sisters and their friends bring Jesus to the tomb in which the body of their brother was laid. The heart of Jesus goes out to them…and Jesus weeps with them for he loved Lazarus…and he loves them…and he shares in their pain. But Jesus also weeps for them and all who cry inconsolably in the face of death, as they had not yet found hope in what it means that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Yes, Jesus can and does reanimate Lazarus, that is, restore him to his old life, but that does not take away death. Lazarus will one day die again.
Now most of us have ached when someone we dearly love passed away, and we have wished and perhaps prayed that the person be brought back to us. But even if it were so, it would not last. Our present life is terminal. No matter how wonderful it is, no matter how much we are needed and how much we have done and how much we have left to finish, our present life is not worth comparing to the life that is in and through Jesus. For, the life that Jesus offers is forever…and the best part of that life is the new life that Jesus offers when death and sin are conquered.
So while Jesus was able to reanimate Lazarus, Jesus was not taking away death. For a new life is only possible when this life ends and Jesus becomes our resurrection and life. Freedom given through love is what awaits us on the other side of death. Freedom from pain and suffering, freedom from the tragedies and struggles of life, freedom to experience first hand the love of Jesus who wept with those he loved and still does, who came to those who called out to him and still does, and who offered salvation through his own death and resurrection to those who believed in him and still does. For, only God can bring life to the dead, and Jesus is truly the resurrection and the life. All who believe in him, even though they die, will live.
On the All Saints Sunday, a day in which we remember those who left this world during the last year, do you believe this? Do you believe that they are safe in God’s care? Do you believe this, even though you still grieve your loss? If you do than may you proclaim with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I believe…I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world…You are the resurrection and the life.” You are promise of today and the hope of the time to come.
Believe this, my friends, and trust in the Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.