Jesus if only you had been here...
We all know what it feels like to have loved and lost. Maybe you have lost a beloved pet, a spouse, a child, a parent, or another family member or friend. Maybe this loss hit you in ways you hadn’t thought it would, making life harder, each day more painful, making rational thought less focused. We all know the feelings of individual loss. And as a congregation, St. John’s has gone through communal losses, the losses of beloved community members, the loss of church buildings due to fire, the loss of priests due to death, vocation change, and family transitions. Each time one of these situations happen, we find it easy to say with Martha and Mary from the gospel passage today, Jesus, if only you had been here… implying that if Jesus had been here, we would not have had to lose what was beloved to us. Both Mary and Martha voice this longing to Jesus, knowing that he could have stopped their brother Lazarus from dying, and feeling sorely his lack of presence in that moment. Surely, we have all thought at some time or another, Jesus, if only you had been here.
Martha is the first one in the passage to voice this lament, Jesus, if only you had been here… Naturally, Jesus doesn’t answer her with a straight forward reply. No, Jesus offers truth to the pain. “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.” In listening to Jesus say this, there is that immediate momentary joy, there is a way to escape death! The immediate and momentary joy of good news… before the other shoe drops. Because then there is the realization of truly what Jesus is speaking about, what it means to believe in him.
Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
Martha answers, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She answers yes, however John tries to make it clear in this passage that this answer is not the fullness of belief, you can’t just SAY that you believe. Full belief in Jesus requires our souls and bodies. Our hearts, our minds, our strengths, our weaknesses. Giving ourselves to Jesus is like giving ourselves in marriage. In Church tradition, we talk a lot about Jesus being the bridegroom and the church being the bride. We talk a lot about how Jesus is married to the church because there is a fundamental fullness to the self-giving that happens in true marriage. A person doesn’t give themselves partially to another in marriage, a marriage will only work well if they give fully of everything they are, have, and will be. Do you believe? Have you given fully of yourself to Jesus? It is a hard question to answer with a firm yes! Giving everything we are and have takes real dedication, practice, and devotion. We are human and we fail at times. In this story, we hear Martha give more of an affirmation of believing in who Jesus is than Peter ever does in the book of Mark. In the gospel of Mark, this would have been good enough as a firm yes, however, John demands both word and action. John is waiting for Martha to show her belief in her actions.
John demands both word and action in showing belief in Jesus. Unfortunately, John finds Martha lacking in the action department. So, what does this look like? Who is really living into belief in Jesus? Society and Christianity differ on who can be considered to be really living. Society says that you need to have tried everything, been bold in relationships with other people, climbed the career ladder, traveled the world, and tested human boundaries to be really living. Basically only the people who cliff jump or are CEOs of startup companies or celebrities are the people who are really living. Yet, Christianity has a very different idea of what it means to be really living. To live a full life in Christianity means to live fully into belief in Jesus Christ, into the new life given to us through his death and resurrection. We see this in those in our community who are tirelessly working on behalf of others. Who give themselves over to devoted prayer for others, who show up to support those who are hungry, homeless, lacking healthcare, economic stability or education. Those who care for those who no one else cares about.
What about the rest of us? What is stopping us from giving our full selves? What is stopping us from living real and new lives? I think of the stone between Jesus and Lazarus in this passage. Stones were symbols of death and isolation in ancient times. Most graves were constructed of stone, as the safest way to keep animals away from the dead. That stone, keeping Lazarus and his smell in, acted as a boundary wall, keeping Lazarus stuck where he was. Sometimes the walls between us and Jesus are stone walls, sometimes they are brick walls. Sometimes they are the walls of our offices or our houses or even our church. Sometimes those walls are inside of our minds, thoughts and ideas that isolate us or hold us back from living fully and in newness. Anytime I think of boundary walls inside the mind, I think of Pink Floyd’s famous album, The Wall. If you’ve ever fully listened to the album, you know the disaster that comes from the main character building an emotional wall between himself and the world, in part brought on by the loss of his father.
No matter what kind of wall, stone, brick, or emotional, holds us back, Jesus calls to us.
And Jesus doesn’t just call us up on the telephone politely. No.
Lazarus, come out! Elizabeth, come out! Dave, come out!
There is a saying in the more evangelical denominations that Jesus had to specifically say Lazarus’ name because otherwise all the graves would open and all the dead would have risen. Can you imagine? Can you hear Jesus calling your name now? Come out! Come out from behind the stone that is holding you back. Let the community of the church help unbind you! Be unbound! It’s not just Jesus that unbinds Lazarus, the community of Jews present helps as well. Let this community help you be unbound. Heed Jesus’ cry, hear the Good Shepherd calling to you, come out! There is work in this world waiting to be done which can only be done by Jesus working through us. Come out! Be unbound! Believe in him! Live fully into Jesus’ love for you.