Jesus didn’t show up.
They asked Jesus to come…and Jesus didn’t show up when they needed him. That’s the gist of this story, really. That’s where Mary and Martha are at….that’s where their friends are at. Lazarus, their beloved brother and friend, was so very sick…and they desperately wanted Jesus to come and do his thing. Heal him…restore him. So they sent word to him…but Jesus didn’t come and Lazarus died. And now, in the midst of their devastating grief…they are trying to understand why Jesus didn’t show up.
I think this story is important…because this is where we live, isn’t it? I mean — when our loved ones are dying….when we are hurting…when we are in pain…and the healing doesn’t happen. We wonder why Jesus isn’t showing up. We hear stories, after all…of miraculous healings for other people. We may even know people who’ve been healed…had their prayers answered. So why not us? Why not the people we love? Where are the miracles we long for?
And we can spread the net broader too….and wonder where the miracles are for the people in Ukraine? There are many friends of Jesus there after all. Or for the people of Myanmar…whose Civil war has continued for over 60 years now? Lee and Chris could tell you stories about the friends of Jesus there….their son in law’s precious family. So why doesn’t Jesus show up? What’s taking him so long? We’ll be singing an old spiritual after the sermon today…on of the songs of American slaves who prayed to Jesus to deliver them. Why didn’t Jesus show up for them? Why did he wait so long…and why does injustice persist?
And we can’t help but feel like Mary did…Jesus, if only you were here…none of this would have happened.
But maybe that’s the point of this story. This is what happens. This is life, in all its fragility. This is the life we human beings experience…with all it’s violence and death…. life fraught with grief and suffering. …life lived in the shadow of death. We are vulnerable…as we most of us know all to well. Those of us who have sat in hospital waiting rooms. Who have viewed bodies in funeral homes. Those of us who live with chronic pain or trauma or mental illness. Death…the fear of death …of losing our life…of losing others…of losing hope…holds us captive in this life.
I wonder Jesus doesn’t show up “in time” for Lazarus….because the reality is that Jesus doesn’t ultimately come to remove us from our human frailty and vulnerability. We will still live in a world where people are crazy enough to start wars and shoot at nuclear reactors. We will still live in a world where accidents happen and lives are shattered in an instant. We will still live in a world where people get sick and die…like Lazarus.
This is who we are…what it means to human. The only absolute truth about any one of us…from the time we are born…is that someday we will die. Our heart will stop, our systems will fail. As we remembered on Wednesday…we will return to dust. Jesus doesn’t take us out of that reality…rather Jesus invites us to live in God’s reality in the midst of it.
You know… It is interesting, in John’s gospel…when Jesus first calls his disciples…he invites them to “Come and see”. He invites them to come and spend time with him and learn about who God is…how God is in the world. To learn about God’s reality. And then after spending time with Jesus, those same people would go and invite others …Philip invites Nathanael to “Come and see.” The Samaritan woman goes and invites her whole community to “Come and see. “
But today….in this story…it is Jesus who is invited to “Come and see”. When Jesus asks where Lazarus is lying…they say “Come and see” Come and see, Jesus…what it is to be truly human. Come and see, Jesus…our grief. Our pain. Our suffering. Our frailty. Laid in the tomb. You have shown us who God is. We are showing you who we are. This is us…at our deepest core.
And Jesus weeps. Jesus experiences our deepest pain… the loss of a loved one. He grieves Lazarus whom he loved. He is disturbed…distraught. Jesus, son of God, sees who we are and weeps with us in the midst of all that is so broken and so hard and so unbearable in our lives.
But then…he shows us again who God is. Who God is in the midst of all our human frailty. Just before the part of the story we read today, Jesus tells Martha “I am the resurrection and the life…Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live”. And so Jesus, after weeping with his loved ones…demonstrates just that and calls forth Lazarus from the tomb…with all his 4 days dead stink upon him. Jesus calls him to life…and tells the others to “unbind him and let him go.”
Jesus tells them to unbind Lazarus literally, from his burial cloths. But more so, unbind him from the chains of death. Unbind him from all the things in this life that limit him, that constrain him…that keep him from living fully…from having hope and joy. Jesus came to give us life…eternal life…abundant life. Life without end…He cam that we would know that even though we die….we live. In the resurrection of Lazarus…Lazarus doesn’t get a mortal life that lasts forever….he’s still destined to decay and turn to dust. But what Jesus reveals to us in Lazarus’ resurrection is that death means nothing to God. That we do not have to fear death. We do not have to live in death’s shadow. We don’t have to feel trapped. Because we live in Jesus. We can live unbound. Free from fear. Free from having to prove ourselves. Free from the constraints of this world that call us to anything but love. We can live our lives bravely and we do not have to play it safe. In this world where bombs drop and hatred spreads…we do not have to succumb. We do not have to succumb to evil…to hate…to greed…to pettiness. We are free. Free to live. And free to love.
And so our prayer today is “Unbind us Lord, and set us free…to be your beloved people bringing a word of life in this world of death.” Amen