Jesus Wept. So Can We.

Hi Friends,

It is hard to believe, but this is week three of our virtual worship.  I actually moved my livestream home this week.  I am still preaching through the lectionary Lenten texts.  This morning was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  I think it is fitting right now that we are reading stories of miraculous healing and resurrection – we all need the reminder and reassurance that we will be redeemed.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 29, 2020

John 11:1-45

Jesus Wept.  So Can We.

This story has always perplexed me.  In fact, I think every time I have preached it up until this point, I have given a disclosure that, as both a Christian and as a pastor, I really wrestle with the whole bodily resurrection thing.  There are elements to this story that – now more than ever – do not necessarily make sense on a scientific or physical level.

I mean, the truth is, I think we are all praying for a Lazarus type of miracle right now.  And yet, the news just seems to be getting worse and scarier as the days go on and it is becoming harder and harder to hold fast to Jesus’ reassurance to Martha in this story that she needs to believe.

And yet, for some reason, this story is bringing me an odd sense of comfort right now – and I think there are two reasons for this.

Jesus’ words to Martha are ones I have spoken at every funeral, memorial or burial service I have ever presided over.

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.

As strange as it sounds, these words bring me comfort right now.  First of all, because I have said them so many times, they are familiar to me.  And currently, we are living in a world that is anything but familiar.  We are all trying to navigate this time and space of the unfamiliar and I think little pieces of normalcy are a good thing.  In fact, I would encourage you all to seek out little pieces of normal every single day, even if you find it in the smallest things.  These are the things that will help ground us and steady us as we seek to find our new normal.

Truth be told, I think a lot of these pieces can be found in our faith – through scripture, prayer and music.

The second reason Jesus’ words are bringing me comfort right now is because when I say them after someone has died, I do so as a reminder to their loved ones that their story is not over yet; that our faith is not grounded in death, but in resurrection.  And so, reading them in the midst of the chaos we are living in today reminds me of this same promise – that our story is not over yet.

That resurrection is coming.

Our faith is not defined death, but by new life; not by darkness, but by light; not by our brokenness, but by God’s ability to make us whole again.

So – let’s talk about this morning’s scripture.  It comes from the Gospel of John, which, to some extent, is a little bit of a continuation of last week’s reading, the healing of the blind man.  The healing of the blind man can be found in the ninth chapter John and this morning’s reading, the rising of Lazarus is just two chapters later, in John 11.  In between these two stories, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd and then is rejected by the Jews.

To some extent, not much time passes between Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man and his even more miraculous (and almost incomprehensible) raising of Lazarus.  And to me, this sort of reinforces the point that Jesus is all in right now.  He is not holding anything back – he is fully revealing the Glory of God and the light that shines in this world, even if the world is pushing back.

Jesus knows how this story is going to end – he foretells his death and resurrection over and over and over again.  And so there is a sense of urgency to what he is trying to do and what – and who – he is trying to reveal.

Our story begins in the village of Bethany where three siblings – Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus – live.  Lazarus is ill, so Mary and Martha – who had encountered Jesus previously in the Gospel, send Jesus a message to let Jesus know that Lazarus, a man Jesus knows and loves, is sick.  Jesus does not travel to see Lazarus right away; and by the time he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already been dead for four days.

Mary and Martha are visibly – and justifiably – upset by the passing of their brother.  They are weeping and, when Jesus sees them weeping, he begins to weep, as well.  Then Jesus goes to the tomb; he asks to have the stone removed and then calls for Lazarus to come out.

And Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

Let’s back up for a moment.

When Jesus approaches the village of Bethany, Mary stays at home and Martha goes to greet him.  Martha says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus responds to Martha and says, “Your brother will rise again.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

There is not a doubt in Jesus’ mind how this story is going to end.  In the same way that he keeps foretelling his own death and resurrection, he knows that this is not the end of Lazarus’ story.  He knows that Lazarus is going to be resurrected to new life; he is confident that when he calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb that he will, in fact, walk out on his own.

And yet, here is the part that is really resonating with me right now.

When Mary arrives and, like her sister, says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She is weeping while she says this to him – and so are the Jews who had been consoling her in her house and then followed her to meet Jesus.

And rightfully so, right?  Their friend – Mary and Martha’s brother – a person they all love very much – has died.  If ever there is a time to weep, this is it.

But here is the part that speaks to us today – when Jesus sees their pain and sadness and mourning and sorry, he, too, begins to weep.

Hear these words from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35:

Jesus began to weep.

Jesus – a man who knows and has seen miraculously healing take place, who, not long before this moment healed a blind man with the simple substance of dirt and saliva – began to weep.

Jesus – the Good Shepherd – began to weep.

Jesus – the Word, the beginning, life – the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness – began to weep.

Jesus – the light of the world – began to weep.

Jesus – who knew how this story was going to end, who knew that Lazarus was going to walk out of the tomb resurrected to new life – began to weep.

Jesus – who believes in the hope of resurrection – began to weep.

He weeps over the sadness of this moment – over the brokenness of the world.

I love this passage because we see Jesus’ humanity walking parallel with his faith.  His weeping is not a failure of his own belief or a sign of his weakness, but a testament to his humanness.

It is important for us to remember, now more than ever, that our own weeping is not a failure of our belief or a sign of our weakness, but a testament to our humanness.

We are getting ready to enter week three of our social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining.  It is strange to think that, when this started three weeks ago, I not only heeded the recommendation of the Southern New England Conference to suspend our in-person worship, programs and activities for two weeks, but I cautiously extended the time frame an extra week to include this Sunday.  At the time several of my colleagues were taking things one week at a time, some of them even chose to meet in person that first Sunday, while taking CDC-recommended precautions for social distancing.

My how things have changed.

As strange as this sounds, I think we are all starting to settle into a really bizarre new normal.  And I think there is some good that comes with this.  For example, we used grocery pickup for the first time this week and it made me feel better about the whole food supply chain and our access to food and other essentials during this time.

(It also made me wish I had not stocked up on so many snacks ahead of time because now there is just a lot of junk food in my house that I am trying to resist, but that is another point for another day.)

But I also think that there is a new wave a secondary grief that has come – and is still coming – with this new normal.  We are not only mourning the loss of the world as we knew it, but also the things we were looking forward to and our expectations for what our lives might look like in the coming weeks and months.

And I am talking about the little things as much as I am talking about the big things.  Of course there are big and serious concerns about everyone’s health, safety, job security and finances right now, but I also think people are just really bummed that they have had to change their plans.  Vacations have been canceled, events have been postponed and people are just missing hanging out with one another.  And while we are all doing the best we can to connect in other ways and make the most out of it, it is hard not to grieves the layers of loss that comes with this.

It is okay to weep.

After all, knowing how the story was going to end, Jesus wept.

It is okay for us to weep now, too.  To grieve.  To give ourselves a moment where we fall apart and have a little pity party.  To feel sad about things we are missing out on or expectations that we have had to change, even though we know there are a lot of other bigger problems we should probably be worrying about.

Jesus wept – it is okay if we weep now, too.

We are human, after all.  And even though we believe in resurrection – we believe that light will shine, that light is shining – we believe that we will get through this and that we have not been abandoned – we, like Jesus, are facing our human brokenness in a real and vulnerable and devastating way right now.

It is okay for us to weep.

It does not make us less faithful, it does not mean that we have given up.

It just means that we are human.  And that we are going through something that is hard right now.

But remember Jesus’ promise throughout all of this.

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.

Resurrection will come.  Light will shine.  One day we will walk out of our home likes Lazarus came out of the tomb and shed the bands of this social-distance-essential-only-sheltered-quarantining and we will all rejoice together when that happens.

And we can be confident that this will happen and that God has not abandoned us and still be sad right now.  Jesus wept – it is okay for us to weep now, too.

Friends, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself during this season of life that we are in.  It is okay to be human – to acknowledge your vulnerability and your emotions and your brokenness.  To give yourself a moment to fall apart.  To know that your grief – whether it be over something big or small – is real and validated.

And then let God meet you in that moment.

And remind you of the hope of resurrection.  And of the light that is shining in the midst of this darkness.

And through our grief and our sadness, be like Martha, say through our grief and our sadness, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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