Monday, October 26, 2009

Dead? I Don't Think So

John 11:28-44

28When 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.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The 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. 32When 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.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”

Dead? I Don't Think So

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I hear that line all the time. Before jokes and stories, usually. But I never actually stopped someone. I always feel like it would be rude to actually stop someone, even if I’ve heard the joke. Besides, by the time I realize it’s repetitive, they’re too far into the joke or story for me to say something in a way that’s tactful and polite, so I just let the story or joke go on, even though I know the ending. Usually it’s funny, so I laugh, although not quite the same way I did the first time, because I know what’s coming. It takes some of the fun out of it.

In my family, it was a high crime, akin to stealing, if you flipped to the back of a book. We’re all pretty big readers, and it was sacrilege only to read the final few pages of the book. This week I read Dan Brown’s latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, and even though I had a pretty good hunch of how it would end, I refused to flip forward despite every temptation to check my intuition. It just seems wrong, like it spoils everything.

Someone asked me once if I would want to know the future. I don’t think I would. Wouldn’t it take a lot of the fun out of the present if we knew how it all turned out? Can you imagine living in dread of something for years, simply waiting for a terrible thing to happen? Even a great thing would be difficult to wait on—we’d simply be waiting and waiting, letting so much of life pass us by until we got to the good part. Our joys and heartbreaks wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic, because we would know it was coming and wouldn’t be able to do a thing to avoid it.

I can’t imagine what God feels like. God is all-knowing. We have to be careful how we draw this line—we can say that God is all-knowing, that God knows the choices we will make and, even though they may break his heart, allow them to happen. Or we can say that God controls the future, that God has his hands in our daily world and is the one steering us in the directions we choose. I believe that God knows the choices we will make and the outcome of them, and lets them happen, even if they are the wrong choices. I don’t think God ever makes any of us sin, but simply works to redeem our sin.

So we have Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God, here in John’s Gospel. Jesus, because he is fully God, is all-knowing. He knows what is going to happen and knows he has the power to do it. So why does he weep?

Here it is, right in the middle of our reading—the shortest verse in the Bible. He wept. Or Jesus began to weep.

Why does he weep?

He knows he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, right? There is no doubt that every tear Mary has shed will be turned into rejoicing with a word. He is not hoping that Lazarus will be raised from the dead—he knows it! So why does he cry?

He weeps because he is watching his beloved cry. He weeps because that’s what we do at funerals. He weeps because he sees the raw emotion pouring forth from raw wounds. He weeps because he loves us.

Let us not skip over this short verse and jump to the conclusion, the raising and the unbinding. Let’s sit a minute, here in the weeping, and marvel at what is happening.

Jesus Christ, the one who can make all things new, is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knows how his children will react. He knows the fear and pain they are in is about to be transformed into rejoicing; he knows that this funeral site will soon become one big celebration.

But when he sees the pain and the anguish on the faces of those he loves, he weeps. Jesus is so deeply connected to each one of the mourners that he cannot help it but shed tears with them in their agony. Jesus knows us so well that he cannot imagine standing by while we weep, waiting for us to notice the miraculous presence of Jesus with us. Jesus sheds tears with them, and those around notice how deeply he loves. The miracle here is not that Jesus wept; it’s that he didn’t weep every day he was alive.

It’s easy for us to read this story and recognize that Jesus should cry when Lazarus dies, when he sees the pain on Mary’s face. But do we take the time and place ourselves in Mary’s shoes, understanding that the Lord of the universe weeps with us? Do we truly recognize the love of our Savior as a deep reality in our life, that we are worthy of Christ weeping with us, or do we believe this only happens to other people, more holy people?

Jesus weeping with us is just as important as what happens next. “Take away the stone,” he announces.

We might say, of course the stone must be rolled away—how else would Lazarus get out? It wouldn’t be a very good miracle if all we got at the end is Lazarus beating on the inside of a stone, hoping someone will let him out!

But remember what we talked about last week. This is the Jesus who walked on water. This is the Jesus who rules all of heaven and earth. This Jesus could have simply commanded the stone to roll itself away.

But instead Jesus invites the disciples to join in the task. Jesus asks them to play a part in revealing the miracle that is unfolding before their eyes. Jesus could do this on his own, but he wants the assistance of the disciples.

Did you get that? It’s not that Jesus needs our help—it’s that he wants it.

That’s how deep the love of God is. God will come and walk among us. God will stop and join us in our pain and our suffering, even though God knows that it will all be healed. God doesn’t leap forward to the end of the story and leave us struggling on our own in the valleys. God also gives us a task. God invites us into the story, asks us to play a role in revealing God’s glory and power here on earth. God could do this on his own, but chooses to involve us. Why? Because he loves us and wants to see us live as a faithful people. Because he wants us to be busy serving him. Because when our hands and feet are busy serving him, they can’t be put to use by the devil.

God mourns with us, but then God gives us something to do. God has a task for each of us, a role in helping to reveal the glory of God here on earth. Have you discovered it? Have you spent the time in prayer and meditation listening to the voice of God? If you have, bless you. I pray that each and every day of your life is directed to fulfilling the task God has placed before you. Continue to pray for strength and focus so that you may fulfill God’s calling for your life. If you haven’t, you, too, have some prayers to say! You have some meditating to do! There is some silence that needs to happen in your life! I cannot say what the task is for each of us, but I can say that God invites each of us into the task of revealing God’s glory here on earth. For some it may be as close as comforting a co-worker, while for others it may involve mission work in far off lands. God invites each of us to a different task.

Never forget that God abides with you in these tasks, just as God abides in the depth of our sorrow and our pain. God’s love is thicker than we can imagine, and we spent our lives wading through it, covered in it, only to discover there is always more, an infinite pool in which God invites us to dive and swim for the rest of eternity.

Let us pray.

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