Below is words spoken during a sermon reflection for At-Home worship on March 29, 2020. This occurred during stay-at-home orders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. The Bible lesson is the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45).
“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
That was the message that Mary & Martha sent to Jesus. Imagine what they were going through buy the time it became serious enough to send word to Jesus.
And then imagine the wait.
No phones. No email. No livestream or FaceTime. They didn’t wait for hours, it was days. “Where is he? Where’s Jesus? When will he be here? Hold on Lazarus, stay with us. “We sent for Jesus…he’s surely on his way”
And then Lazarus died.
Imagine the despair. The grief. The anger. The deep sadness.
You know what that’s like, don’t you?
It’s enough to drive us to our knees. It’s enough to make us wonder where Jesus even is in all of this. It is so tragically easy to relate to the first words said to Jesus by both Martha and Mary in this story:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Those are words being cried out around the world right now: from countless thousands of mouths in every language spoken on Earth. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” These words creep around in our heads and trouble our hearts. When we’re brave enough, we say them out loud.
Sadly, I think we’re going to need those words in the weeks ahead as we face the growing reality of what this pandemic is capable of. As we face the sting of death and how fragile we are. The grief is going to be different for each one of us, and it’s not going to be predictable for any of us.
Listen to how Martha and Mary say the same words, but they approach Jesus in very different ways.
Martha holds on tightly to faith. Martha knew her creed. Martha believed in the “communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body.” Martha had hope for Lazarus in the same way that we place hope in Christ when we attend the funerals of people we love. And Jesus reassured Martha’s faith and hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live”
Mary on the other hand…was weeping. For Mary, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” was all that she could muster through her sobbing. I thank God for Mary and her weeping, because sometimes it’s just too much to be strong like Martha and hold on to those right answers. Mary simply wept. And Jesus began to weep with her.
Imagine: the creator of the universe, God of all that is, weeping with us. Grieving with us. Suffering with us. Dear friends, here this good news: Jesus is there with you.
As you quarantine, as you stay at home…Jesus is there with you.
As you worry about your health, your loved ones…Jesus is there with you.
As you worry about your job, your finances, your co-workers…Jesus is there with you.
As you watch the news get worse…Jesus is there with you.
As you scream into a pillow or break out in tears…Jesus is there with you.
Jesus is there with you sharing the promises of God as he did with Martha and entering right into the tears and the sorrow as he did with Mary.
Don’t be tempted to think that the story of Lazarus is about taking away the pain of death. This isn’t a story about a magic trick or an easy answer. This story, like the story coming next as we get closer to Good Friday, reminds us that real resurrection comes after real death. You have to go to the graveyard before you find an empty tomb.
But know this: Jesus is there with you.
And when it seems that everything you thought life would be has suddenly gone away, or has suddenly been cancelled, or postponed, or suspended…
As you realize that life as you know it has seems to have died, listen for the voice of Jesus saying Lazarus, come out! Listen for the voice of Jesus calling you by name, out of your grave. Listen for Jesus calling you into a life that you didn’t see coming.
In the days ahead, that might be a life of at-home worship on a screen, or a life of Zoom meetings for work as well as for prayer and Bible study. But it will also be a life of serving like Jesus served and loving like Jesus loved: Through a phone call, a text message, even a hand-written letter. It will be donating blood, and donating food, and donating masks and gloves. It will be caring for the sick, and for the poor, and for the lonely.
Our world is ill. Jesus is weeping with us…because Jesus is with us, even right now. Even while we continue staying at home, Jesus is Calling us out of our tombs and into a new life.
God bless you, Saint Luke. Jesus is with you. AMEN.