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Meditation on John 11, selected verses
March 29, 2020
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, Ohio
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus[b] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again. .. Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin,[c] said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus[d] had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Yesterday, we gathered for a small, private family service in our chapel to celebrate the life of John Baird and bear witness to the Resurrection. The decision to gather was made after much prayer, discussion, and careful consideration of our health situation. Although we are sorry that we couldn’t open the service to the church and wider community or have lunch together afterward, the service was a blessing, a gentle time of worship, song, prayer, and sharing stories and healing words. The tiny gathering was a reminder of what the Church is called and empowered to do, by the Spirit, wherever we are. We don’t have to be in the same building to love and serve God and neighbor and share our hope in God’s Son, through whom we have everlasting life.
Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent! Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, already. This day in the church year is sometimes called, “Refreshment Sunday,” as it is like the Third Sunday in Advent, when we light the pink candle and remember that while we are in a season of darkness, preparing for the birth of our Emmanuel, we can also rejoice and celebrate our God who has already come! Here on the Fifth Sunday, as we retell the story of the raising of Lazarus, we cannot help but look ahead to Easter and rejoice in our Risen Lord.
There’s so much here, but what speaks to me in this passage today is Jesus’ conversations and relationship with Mary and Martha. He first talks with Martha, the one without whom he wouldn’t have had that delicious meal at her home in the gospel of Luke because Mary wouldn’t lift a finger to help her. She meets him on the road, not waiting for his to arrive at her home. “Lord, if you had been here,” she says emotionally, “my brother would not have died!”
Still, she hopes against hope! “But even now,” she says, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” She doesn’t know that this two-day delay was intentional, as Jesus says in verse 4, “for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Then comes a theological discussion that reminds me of the one he had with the Samaritan woman at the well, who would go on to bring many others to the Lord by her testimony. Jesus wants to make sure that Martha understands his true identity. He has plans for her. He says, “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. Do you believe this?” Though this is directed as a question, it is an invitation.
“Yes, Lord,” she says. “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
The miracle waits until all the community is gathered, including Mary, who sat at his feet when Jesus came to dinner at her home and hung on his every word. John says this Mary was also the one who poured the expensive perfume on his feet at another dinner party, then wept and wiped them with her hair.
The story of Lazarus unfolds in wonderful detail. When Mary sees Jesus, she says the same thing Martha has said. You can just imagine them repeating those words to one another, over and over, in the days following their brother’s death. “If only Jesus had come. If only he had come in time to heal him.”
And if you are wondering if God really cares about human suffering, then see how Jesus weeps after he sees Mary and her community weeping together. He is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Our God loves us so much that he hurts when we are hurting. Just like those of you who have children of any age. Don’t you feel terrible when they are sad or suffering? God feels this way about us!
At the cry of, “Lazarus, come out!” the young man is restored to new life. He will never be the same again; nor will his family and community. Those who witness the miracle will believe in Jesus. But some will tell the Pharisees, who worry that if Jesus keeps on doing what he has been doing, “everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy” their holy place and nation. From that day on, they plan to put him to death.
A dark shadow falls over this day of joy, “Refreshment Sunday,” in our Lenten journey to the cross.
But we who have come to know Christ as our Savior, the Light of the World, refuse to allow evil or darkness to intimidate or discourage us. For we know that death doesn’t have the final word!
In this time of 24-hour news reports of sickness and death around the globe, it is tempting to give up hope for a miraculous healing of our world, because we haven’t seen or experienced it, up to now, just as Mary and Martha had never seen Christ raise someone from the dead. Maybe we have already prayed about the world’s healing, but gave up when we didn’t feel our prayers were being answered. Maybe you don’t think your prayers will make a difference.
We could choose to be like Mary and Martha, who sank into despair and blamed the Lord as they laid their brother in a tomb. Why hadn’t he come when they needed him? They didn’t anticipate the miracle that God had planned.
Or, we can use this time to keep moving forward in our walk of faith, drawing nearer to the cross, climbing into our prayer closets, digging into God’s Word, and seeking to follow in the footsteps of our Redeemer, from the comfort of our homes. You and me—we can be a healing balm for the world.
Here’s something that came to me when I was studying this passage. Would it change how we live if we decide right now to live as if we have no doubt that our lives don’t end at the grave? And what if we decide to give up all the plans we were making, filling up our calendars through 2020, and entrust our every moment to the care of our loving Lord?
What if we ask the Lord to reveal the miracles of love, transformation and reconciliation that he is doing every day? Because we serve a God of miracles, who weeps when we grieve and suffers with us.
Reach for the one who proclaims, “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.”
He is asking you now, “Do you believe?”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we confess that we have been like Mary and Martha, and have not anticipated the miracles you have planned for us every day. We admit that sometimes we are stuck in our hurt and disappointment when things don’t go our way. Lead us to see the wonderful things you are doing in our midst, your every day miracles, and feel your loving presence with us, wherever we are, so we never feel alone. Teach us how to pray for the healing of the world and work for peace, transformation, and reconciliation as we seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps all the way to the cross. Stir us to let go of the plans that we were making and trust you to lead us in your will and care for us every moment of our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.