John 11:32-44: 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.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’
They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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 for four days.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me.
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.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 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.’
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer… Well, we have a lot of things going on this Sunday, we have a baptism and we are celebrating All Saints today, and we have this gospel message, which is the story of Lazarus.
And I know, trust me, I’ve been working with these things all week, they seem like they might not fit well together. Certainly they’re hard to work around in a sermon. A celebration of lives well lived and the celebration of new life, but then I realized, they are tied together by the story of the raising of Lazarus. The story of resurrection.
Now, to give some context to this, because the story of Lazarus starts a little before our gospel begins, Jesus is traveling, and he hears that his friend, Lazarus, is sick, and he is told to hurry, to come to heal him.
Now, if this was me, I would drop everything and run. You wouldn’t have to tell me twice, I would just take off. And I’m sure the rest of us would as well. If we heard that our loved one was sick and dying, we would do anything to be at their side, especially if we thought we could do something to help. But Jesus does exactly what you would never do in this situation, he does not hurry up, he does not rush, he does not run to Lazarus’ bedside. Instead, Jesus takes his time, and when Jesus finally comes, Lazarus has died, and his sister Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet and says what we probably all have said at some point in time, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Lord, if you have been here, this would not have happened.
And I don’t know about you, but at this point in the story I always start sympathizing with Mary and Martha. Because I don’t know about you, but those words have passed my lips many times, Lord, if you had been here, this would not have happened.
Lord, if you have been paying attention, or done what I wanted, if you had listened to me, this would not have happened. We have all been in those places, where the pain and suffering, the grief, the lament cry out. Where it feels like we have been left without help, without hope. We all get those moments when we start to feel like God is very far away.
And it’s easy to start thinking that maybe God loves us in a wide and abstract way, but not in a way that has any effect on our lives. It’s easy to start thinking like Martha and Mary, that Jesus did not show up to help us. But this is where the story gets interesting.
Now, we all know how this ends. And we can fast forward to the happy part where Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb and he is resurrected. And it would be really easy to stand up here and talk about that this morning, because, really that’s the tie that binds our All Saints celebration and our baptismal celebration to each other today. They are both a celebration of the promise of life in Christ, of new life from the dead.
But here’s the thing. All those great celebrations are the end of the story, and while it’s really easy to see the miracle in the resurrection, its only part of the larger miracle of this story.
Because this is a story about love. This story is about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus, what it means to love him and to be loved by him.
So I think we need to talk about what happens before, because even though it seems like the loving happy ending of resurrection is the most important part of this story, I think that there is something we’re missing here if we skip to the end. We miss Jesus weep. We miss his deep sadness, how greatly disturbed he was in spirit. We miss the relationship.
Because being in relationship, with Christ and with each other, isn’t just about our happy endings, it’s about the journey we take. Love takes work and commitment, it takes sacrifice. Being in relationship with Jesus isn’t about what he can give us as individuals, being in relationship with Jesus means facing death and grief with him and learning that still, in spite of the death, the dark wilderness, the finality of the door at the entrance to the tomb of our hopes, he is still life.
Nothing is ever so dead that it keeps him from bringing something new.
That is the story we gather to celebrate today, we gather to celebrate the lives of saints both known and unknown, those who walked the Christian path, and who lived out that journey, who when the lights when out and the path turned dark, put out their hands and stepped out with faith based not on sight but the knowledge of Christ’s light in their hearts.
And we gather today to celebrate a baptism, the story of new love being born into the community of St James Westminster, the first steps of a new family member, who we commit to walking with, who we commit to having a relationship with.
We have all been Martha and Mary, weeping through the grief of loss. We have all been Lazarus, lifeless and gone. But if we fast forward to the ending of resurrection, we miss that Jesus is right there weeping with us. That through the darkness of change and the unknown, he is with us, part of our joy and happiness, part of our grief and pain.
We have all been called out and given new life. This is what we celebrate today, what binds us together, that we have all been called out by Christ, from the saints and souls we remember today, to the brand new member of our church family. We are called to journey, in love, in relationship, through the unknown, with love and hope.
This is the promise of the story of Lazarus, the promise that Jesus loves us, He weeps for us, He is deeply moved by us. And He brings life to our death, a light to our darkness, even when we think we have been forgotten, even when we think we have lost it all.
The raising of Lazarus isn’t just a miracle that Jesus performed thousands of years ago in a land far, far away. It’s the work of Jesus today. This life is not only a future hope, abundant life is always ever now. And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we remember those deceased faithful and the wonderful relationships we had with them, and celebrate and commit ourselves to a new relationship today, let us remind ourselves of our belovedness, and the true miracle of Christ ever present.