This week’s lectionary reading is incredibly poignant for the time we find ourselves in.
I suspect this post rambles a round a bit, but I offer it dredged from the bottom of my brain-fogged head. Feel free to engage with me as we work out our theology for these times together.
Lazarus gets sick, his sisters ask Jesus to come to him. But he doesn’t – at least now when or how they think he should…
John 11:1-45 (GNT)
The Death of Lazarus
11 A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived. (2 This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.) 3 The sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your dear friend is sick.”
4 When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.”
5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days. 7 Then he said to the disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you; and are you planning to go back?”
9 Jesus said, “A day has twelve hours, doesn’t it? So those who walk in broad daylight do not stumble, for they see the light of this world. 10 But if they walk during the night they stumble, because they have no light.” 11 Jesus said this and then added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go and wake him up.”
12 The disciples answered, “If he is asleep, Lord, he will get well.”
13 Jesus meant that Lazarus had died, but they thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 but for your sake I am glad that I was not with him, so that you will believe. Let us go to him.”
16 Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us all go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”
Jesus the Resurrection and the Life
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been buried four days before. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Judeans had come to see Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother’s death.
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died! 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask him for.”
23 “Your brother will rise to life,” Jesus told her.
24 “I know,” she replied, “that he will rise to life on the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; 26 and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord!” she answered. “I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
28 After Martha said this, she went back and called her sister Mary privately. “The Teacher is here,” she told her, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up and hurried out to meet him. (30 Jesus had not yet arrived in the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.) 31 The people who were in the house with Mary comforting her followed her when they saw her get up and hurry out. They thought that she was going to the grave to weep there.
32 Mary arrived where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw him, she fell at his feet. “Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
33 Jesus saw her weeping, and he saw how the people with her were weeping also; his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved. 34 “Where have you buried him?” he asked them.
“Come and see, Lord,” they answered.
35 Jesus wept. 36 “See how much he loved him!” the people said.
37 But some of them said, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Lazarus Is Brought to Life
38 Deeply moved once more, Jesus went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone placed at the entrance. 39 “Take the stone away!” Jesus ordered.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, answered, “There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!”
40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believed?” 41 They took the stone away. Jesus looked up and said, “I thank you, Father, that you listen to me. 42 I know that you always listen to me, but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 After he had said this, he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 He came out, his hands and feet wrapped in grave cloths, and with a cloth around his face. “Untie him,” Jesus told them, “and let him go.”
The Plot against Jesus
45 Many of the people who had come to visit Mary saw what Jesus did, and they believed in him.
Why doesn’t Jesus do what they want, what they think is right??
He wasn’t here,
he didn’t come.
Our brother was sick
come to him.
He left him alone
being with him.
How can he have done that?
Did he not care?
If he really loved us,
cared about him,
would he not have been here
making everything ok,
Where were you
when we needed you?
We know the theology,
that one day,
all will be well
and all will be healed.
But what about now?
What about our brother?
where are you?
are we not important to you?
They may have thought that Jesus didn’t care, didn’t understand or just couldn’t do anything about it. They were really angry with him – quite justifiably perhaps. But actually Jesus already knew what was happening – he was already on his way to them, fully aware of what the situation was. He was coming to do the Right Thing – that might be different to what they desired.
When he was met with Mary and Martha Jesus stood among them and wept. What a powerful image that is. Jesus stands among the pain, despair and feelings of desertion and weeps with them – and then does something.
Clearly physical resurrection is not going to be what happens for everyone – and how painful that can be, particularly at this time in our world history. But he still stands there among the pain and anguish and weeps as we weep – I firmly believe that because I have known it in other devastating times. Please do not think that is a glib phrase, easily trotted out. It is my experience and my hope.
The other reading for this week is Ezekiel 37:1-14, the famous passage about the Valley of Dry Bones. To me, with my illness, the main part of which is dryness in every part of the body that produces fluid, this passage speaks very loudly. The bones were dry, beyond help or restoration, and yet new life and hope was promised.
The new life that we see will be very different. I am acutely aware that there will be some loved ones missing from it. There will be devastation – and that is tragic and gut-wrenchingly painful. Few of us will be immune. I myself am in the highly vulnerable category.
But somehow, eventually, piece by new piece, we do find a new way to live with the pain and brokenness and ultimately to know hope again. The dry bones of life as we knew it will have breath again and there can be life anew.
These are painful times we are living through. There are no easy answers, to try and give them would be very wrong.
But we can bring to God our emptiness, our pain, our fear, our anguish and whatever other emotion (or probably a whole roller coaster of them) we are feeling. The God of brokenness is with us.
(I wish this song was a bit slower – but we have what we have!)
This was shared on Facebook, which puts a different slant on this reading:
now (John 11)
it is no longer
an exegetical puzzle
to be solved in our study;
it is no longer a pericope (a passage from the bible)
with which to wrestle;
it is no longer a (really)
long reading to get through;
it is no longer a story
we blow the dust off every 3 years.
it is our story;
it is about us;
it is us inside that
dank, dark tomb:
stinking of fear,
wrapped in the bands
blinded by the handkerchief
of weary worry.
for just a footstep,
just a tear dropping on the ground,
just a whisper of Jesus
pacing before the stone,
growling in his spirit
in anger and frustration,
before he cries out,
in hope and joy and life,
we are not casual bystanders;
we are Lazarus
waiting . . .
(c) 2020 Thom M. Shuman
For now, may each of us know God’s blessing and peace,
may we know he stands with us
and weeps with us in our fear and despair
may we know his presence
and may his blessing be
with each one of us
those we care for,
those we are worrying about,
those who are ill,
and those we have lost,