(full reading: John 11.1-45)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus does the most miraculous—he raises Lazarus from the dead. We know that miracles are signs of what the Kingdom of God is like. In this Gospel passage, Jesus shows us stunningly that our God is the God of Life.
We could, we should, we need to rest in that knowledge for a few moments every day!
Our God is the God of Life, stronger than death.
Take a moment to enjoy that now.
Jesus fascinates us in this Gospel passage.
Jesus delays coming, Jesus weeps, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb.
All of these fascinating actions form memorable moments for many reasons.
Right in the middle of the passage, though, a fascinating conversation occurs.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Martha does not mind telling Jesus exactly what she thinks.
If you had been here, she says. Those few words are loaded with feeling.
If YOU had been here—We suspect Martha spits in fury at Jesus.
If you had been HERE—We wonder if she cries out, feeling abandoned by God.
IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE!!! We know Martha's heart wails, brokenhearted.
We take note of that. She does not turn her back on Jesus in her fury, in her abandonment, in her grief. She speaks it to his face.
Martha also does not mind telling Jesus what she knows.
Even now, she says. Those two words tell us a lot.
Even now, after Lazarus is dead. The end.
Even now, when all hope is gone.
Even now, after death has changed everything and nothing is right, Martha knows that Jesus is the answer.
Martha knows Jesus is the answer, but quite possibly, she does not know what the question is. This becomes clear later, when Jesus wants to roll the stone away from the tomb. Martha is concerned—maybe even disgusted—and tries to prevent him,
“Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
Martha does not know the way through this terrible situation, but she does know that Jesus is the one to turn to. Although she does not know how, she knows that he alone can help.
So often in our lives, we find ourselves in this situation.
We find ourselves in a mess that we cannot climb out of.
Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wars.
Gossiping, lying, shouting, fighting.
Disease, disaster, divorce, death.
Situations of our own making or forces beyond our control create problems we do not know the way through.
But we do know that Jesus is the one to turn to.
Although we do not know how, we know that he alone can help.
Like Martha we can spit our fury, cry out our frustration, wail our grief, into the face of the One who alone can help.
What Martha believes about Jesus may also fascinate us. She says,
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
The Messiah. We hear that term a lot. God's anointed one.
The Son of God. Another familiar title. We use it when we make the sign of the cross.
But, "the one coming into the world"—? We do not often hear that phrase. We certainly never use it.
Coming into the world. A rather odd way to say something, is it not?
Not "the one already here,"
not "the one to come someday,"
but the one in the process of coming.
Perhaps this coming-but-not-fully-here forms part of the reason why Jesus is
greatly disturbed in spirit
Jesus will raise this man from the dead, but what about all the other people who will die?
Jesus will unbind this man from the cloths that prevent him from living life fully, but what about people bound by fear?
People bound by loneliness?
People bound by sorrow?
People bound by sin?
What about us and the messes we are in?
In so many different ways, we can find ourselves bound.
Jesus is the one coming into the world, Martha says. So how do we get him fully here?
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
He gives this work to the people around Lazarus. Perhaps, he gives this work to us.
Can we unbind the people around us?
Do we know people bound by fear? Of the dark, of bullies, of being alone? Can we free them from fear with light, with a kind word, with our company? Can we free those bound by loneliness, those bound by sorrow? It seems that all of these things that bind us can be loosened by coming together in community. We cannot call someone into life, perhaps—that work belongs to God—but the unbinding? We can work on that. We can call people into our company, into community.
But what about sin? How do we get unbound from sin?
We know we need forgiveness and this work belongs to God. We go to the sacrament of Reconciliation and God calls us out of our sin, back into life. God hears and forgives.
But Jesus says, "Unbind," to the people. To us. Can we participate in God's work of forgiveness? Can we be the sacrament of reconciliation for someone else?
At our baptism, we are anointed with the oil of Chrism—the Christ oil, the Messiah oil—and these words are said:
He now anoints you with the Chrism of salvation, so that you may remain as a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King, unto eternal life.
Perhaps now is the time for us to be priest to each other.
"I forgive you. You are forgiven."
Who among us needs to hear these words from us?
Can we do this for each other?
And if we do, will we be helping Jesus to come into the world?