Scripture: John 11:1-45
Let us pray:
Breathe on us, Breath of God, that we may live; may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Recall from last week that in the Gospel of John, the emphasis on miraculous works performed by Jesus is on the meaning behind them; anytime we come across the word “sign” or “signs,” sehmeia, (Greek) we know something more important than the miracle is going on. As I quoted from Karoline Lewis last week, typically they appear in the text like this:
“Jesus performs a sign which is followed by dialogue and then commentary from Jesus that provides the theological framework through which to interpret the meaning of the sign. … as [a] sign, it points to something beyond itself, to what an encounter with Jesus signifies.”
Reading today’s passage I find myself utterly challenged. In my opinion, nothing is more permanent, more messy, more agonizing than losing those we love in death. We lose those we love, never to see them again; never to hold them again, never to love and be loved again.
It is true that in their society at that time, losing their brother meant more than loss of family, it most likely meant loss of livelihood as well, for the man or men of the household provided for the women. Without Lazarus, Mary and Martha would have been destitute-perhaps even included along with the widows and orphans for whom greater Hebrew society, as able, would have to care for.
Granted, the full sign performed here is not that Jesus waits and allows Lazarus, a dear friend of his to die, or that Jesus allows Mary and Martha to enter into deep mourning. The full sign performed by Jesus includes his presence, praying aloud before the sisters and the community and calling Lazarus back out of the tomb – with the breath of life returned to him!
To Mary and Martha, who have just lost their brother, Lazarus’ death and resurrection is itself is a sign pointing to something beyond that even, yet they don’t really understand it. I don’t quite understand it either; Mary and Martha are supposed to somehow spiritualize their experience of the death and resurrection of Lazarus as a sign?”
Jesus even tells them why: “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. Why does this challenge me so much? In the world I live in, loosing someone like that doesn’t end in a resurrection miracle returning them to me whole and well again. When they die, they stay dead. Even as a story in the Bible meant to teach me something, I find playing with life and death very difficult just for the purpose of some sort of “awakening to spiritual life” moment..
Even after years of readjusting to life without a loved one, sometimes it is still hard to embrace life, filled as it is with arrivals and departures, births and deaths, finding a great love and losing it, chasing dreams and having them dissolve into the mists of time. For me it is particularly challenging to put belief in this text to practice in my real world life.
Then again, perhaps that is where faith begins: in the in-between. Our faith gave us a living, breathing, God-With-Us Emmanuel who walked among us doing miracles that defied all natural laws as we know them. Our faith gave us One who doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want, who is no longer with us “in the flesh” as we know it, yet we are asked to believe:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Jesus teaches Martha and those listening, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Mary and Martha received Lazarus back into their life for a time. Our dearly beloved don’t rise like Lazarus did. So what can we take away from this text into life as we know it?
In the absence of the Incarnate One, what we have is belief. Who we have is the Holy Spirit, the One in whom all is tied together regardless of the bounds of time or distance. What we have is God’s love out-poured into the world through us. Who we have to assist us is the mysterious third aspect of the Trinity whom Jesus calls, in John’s Gospel, the Advocate or Helper. What we have are the actions of our own hands and feet in the world as we know it, and our one life to live and breathe and act. Who we have is one another and all God’s children everywhere who need to experience – and have extended to them – the love of God.
In the end, perhaps even the great end, moved by the One Great Love we have come to know, we learn what it is to live and move and have our being – embraced by the One who lived, who died, and who rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Lewis, Karoline M. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Questions for Reflection
Why did Jesus weep in John 11:35? Was it out of compassion for Mary
and Martha? Out of love for his friend Lazarus? Out of frustration with the people’s lack of understanding or faith? Think about someone in your life who is grieving. Find a way to extend to that person the grace and peace of Christ.
Household Prayer: Morning
O God, I know that you are the Lord,
for you gave me my life,
and caused me to rise this day.
Put your Spirit within me,
and let my words and actions
help others to know
that you are my Lord and my God. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
My soul waits for you, O Lord, Ps. 130:6
more than those who watch for morning,
more than those who watch for morning.
Help me to sleep this night in peace,
trusting that you will awaken me;
through Jesus Christ my Savior. Amen