Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text is John 11.
If your house is like mine the last two weeks, you’ve spent some time on a favorite streaming service watching movies and programs. Amazon has a unique feature that you can pause a program so you can get the details of that scene. It shows you the characters names, and the actors who play those characters. You can then chose which actor and get a full pedigree of what movies or TV shows that actor has been in. You know how you’ll see a person on the screen and think, “Where have I seen him before? What movie was he in that we liked so much?” You can figure all that out with just a few pushes of a button. You get to dig into the program and the people in it.
We’re going to do that this morning with this reading from John 11. You probably know this with a title something like “Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead,” or “the raising of Lazarus.” There’s nothing wrong with that, because that death-and-resurrection story is the whole center action of the narrative. That is most certainly worthy of focusing on especially this 5th Sunday in Lent as we draw nearer our Lord’s own death and resurrection.
But this morning, I want to hit the pause button before Lazarus is raised. In fact, I want to hit the pause button before Jesus even arrives at the graveside. I want to stop when Jesus first encounters Martha and she speaks to him. Instead of this scene being about Lazarus, this scene is about Martha. We might call it, “Jesus comforts Martha on the long road to Resurrection.” That’s an important scene for us, because we see ourselves standing along side Martha. We spend the vast majority of our lives on that very same long road to our own resurrection. The words Jesus speaks to Martha, how He comforts her, those words remain as comfort for us today – perhaps today, in the midst of this pandemic of illness and separation (you notice I am joining those two things together), those words are more important than ever.
You know the back-story. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary. When he became ill with some unknown but life-threatening illness, Martha quickly sent word to the Great Physician that He was needed. She utters the church’s prayer: Come quickly, Lord Jesus. And, she knows the church’s wait. Jesus delays in answering and appearing and, when He finally appears on the outskirts of Bethany, Lazarus was dead, Martha’s heart was broken, her spirit crushed with disappointment that Jesus did not arrive.
Hit your pause button at this scene. Martha and Jesus, standing face to face on the road leading into Bethany. If you could, imagine Martha looking to the past, when her brother was well, or at least to the point where there was hope Jesus would arrive in time. She knows what could have been. “Lord, if you had been here,” she says, “my brother would not have died.” She knows Jesus has power and authority over all of creation, even creation that has gone sideways in illness. But, even as she looks to the past, there is a sense of Martha looking forward as well. She confesses the sure and certain hope – remember, hope is confidence! – that this is not the end for her brother. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” So, Martha is looking to the past, and she is looking to the future.
But, in this frozen frame, what is missing is the present, the right now. Right then, in the moment, even as she looks backwards into what could have been and ahead to what will be, in that right-now-moment, her brother is dead. Her Lord wasn’t even close in his arrival – He is three days late. A dead brother; a late Jesus; a broken heart and terrible sorrow.
You know that moment. That right now moment, looking to the past and looking ahead to the future, that in-between time…you know it, because you spend most of your life right there, standing on the road to resurrection. The past is a story of what might have been, what could have been. The future is also assured – you know and confess that you believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. But the coulda been and the gonna be are bookends to the right now, present moment that is your life today. I hardly need to tell you about all that surrounds us: the concern for jobs, the worry of income lost, the fear of a virus that is invisible and seemingly unstoppable, the loneliness of our own homes.
And, in that moment, Jesus speaks. “I am the resurrection and the life.” You’ve heard me say this before, but notice the verb: it’s present-tense. “I am.” Not, “I was the resurrection,” not “I will be the resurrection.” I am. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Present tense, right now, at this moment: I am the resurrection and the life.
Jesus takes the power of the resurrection and the promise of life and He buries it in His own life, death and resurrection. This Jesus – the One who is speaking to you, right now – in your living room, at your dining room table, in your hospital bed – He is the resurrection and the life for you, now.
Here’s what that means: remember, we freeze-framed this scene. It’s before Lazarus is raised from the dead. It’s before Jesus’ own Easter resurrection. In that moment, even before there was a bodily resurrection, Jesus is already the resurrection and the life for Martha, standing on that Bethany road. Jesus has come to be resurrection, to be life for her even in her sorrow.
So, what does that mean, in that moment, before Lazarus is raised? What does it mean that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? What does it mean for us, in 2020, confined to our homes, our apartments, our places of exile, separate from family and brothers and sisters in Christ? What does it mean when this dual pandemic of virus and isolation raises fears and worry and insecurity? What does it mean that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? It means this: Jesus, the resurrection and the life, is a hand that can be touched, a voice that is heard, a tear that is shed, and a holy conversation that happens with Jesus in the midst of this journey.
You do not need to wait until Christ’s return to participate in the resurrection. Remember: Jesus is the resurrection and the life, right now. Don’t try to silence the suffering, hurry past the hurt, pacify the pain, wash away the worry. Instead, remembering that God is using all this for good – even though we cannot yet begin to see or understand how – and receive this as holy because, stripped away of all pretense, in the midst of death, we turn back to Him who is the resurrection and the life. And, in that moment, He has a holy conversation with us on this life-long road to resurrection.
So, today, in the midst of this long pause of your ordinary lives, pause for a moment in this story of Martha. Jesus has come to be with you, just as He was with Martha. He is the resurrection and the life, even now, in the midst of this uncertain time. He fills this time with His love, grace and mercy.
And then press play. Because you live in the resurrection and the life of Jesus. In His name. Amen.