March 22, 2023 – Raising up the dead

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Though we are still in the season of Lent, this week’s gospel foreshadows resurrection as we witness the miraculous raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). Like many of the stories told in John, there is much to unpack in the rich and lengthy text, which we will again see in choreographed form on Sunday. 

One theme of note is the repeated refrain of Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha. Unlike the story in Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42), which puts the two at odds, in John the sisters are united in their insistence that if Jesus had come earlier, their brother wouldn’t have died. Our savior’s comment that his delay allows God’s glory to be revealed can only be reassuring to those who observe the scene from a distance. Surely, shouldn’t God be more interested in preventing suffering that reversing it?

Most if not all of us have strong feelings about the way the world should work, how our neighbors should behave, how stories should unfold, and yes, how God should act. Many of the speakers in our Lenten series have mentioned frustrations with John’s gospel, and I share the sentiment! From John’s depictions of “the Jews” to language that appears more exclusive than inclusive, there is much to critique and struggle with. And yet many of the stories seem remarkably believable when we hold them up not to the world as we think it should be, but how it really is. 

We may crave a Jesus who is kinder to Nicodemus, who seems to come with earnest questions. Jesus should be understanding; instead he doesn’t let Nic at Night (or us) off the hook. If, like me, you’ve ever had such a hard-hitting, truth-telling mentor, you may not have enjoyed it, but neither do you soon forget the lessons.

Similarly, we want the healing, teaching, and messages of Jesus to be available and good news to all people equally, and yet Jesus says, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” Why is it that the woman who came to the well not even looking for Jesus gets to walk away with living water, and the ones who come with questions and requests for aid face rebuffs and delays? That doesn’t seem fair, and God should be fair, but then what is fair under the sun? 

Sometimes I wonder if there’s even a point in trying to understand Jesus’ reasoning. I don’t think I’ll ever hear a satisfactory explanation of why Jesus waited a few more days to visit his dear friends in Bethany. But we can observe what happened when he arrived. Yes, he offers the timeless words of hope still recited today: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.” But after seeing Martha and Mary so distraught, and after seeing with his own eyes the tomb where his friend lay four days gone, he enters the suffering. Twice John says Jesus was deeply disturbed. And when Mary uses Jesus’ own words, “come and see,” to invite him to the tomb, Jesus, too, begins to weep. The divine perspective he possesses does not exempt him from grief. Is that how it should be? Perhaps, perhaps not, but we all remember the time that Jesus wept.

Having faced numerous disappointments this week on account of my long list of “shoulds” (and it’s only Wednesday!), the raising of Lazarus reminds me that the things that trip me up are rarely stumbling blocks to God. Yet that does not mean God is immune to the distress of God’s people. We cannot always predict how God will choose to enter our stories, (and if you put a should in that prediction, all bets are off!), but we can trust that God will enter our stories. To be sure, we can debate the merits of God’s timing, but in the end, we may just get to witness a miracle. And maybe, just maybe, that is glory worth waiting for.

As spring peers out from behind the snow, may we know the blessings of life renewed and restored, inside and out.

Pastor Jen