Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, who raises the dead. Amen.
What strikes me about the text this time — there’s so much here, and we’ve shared this text together several times over the years — what strikes me this time around, is that Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” not at the end, after Lazarus is all raised and showered and fresh and alive, but when things are at their worst.
There’s a scene right at the beginning of the next chapter where Jesus is actually sitting at a banquet table with Lazarus and Mary and Martha. Everyone’s together, food is being served, wine is being poured. You can easily imagine the good smells and the hearty laughter at the table one chapter past this point. But that’s not where Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life...everyone who lives in me will never die.” Jesus says this, at exactly the moment when Lazarus is stone cold dead, stinky-4-days dead in the tomb, when Martha comes at him in bitterness and blame: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” (And of course, beneath the anger is always sadness and fear.)
Friends in Christ, Jesus isn’t just with us in the good times — as we’ve experienced together many times — Jesus is with us through it all. Jesus doesn’t say “I am the resurrection and the life” at the end; he says it right smack in the middle.
And we’re in the middle now here at Shepherd of the Valley. I’ve been describing this past week on a family level (especially with our kids), on a staff and congregational level, and certainly on a personal level — this has been a tough week — I’ve been describing it as going down into a deep forest, into a dark, thicketed valley.
We’ll get through it. It’s not all death and despair, we’ll get through it, you’ll get through it — whatever “it” is for you (maybe your valley has to do with my announcement, maybe it’s something completely separate). But whatever IT is, whatever your dark, thicketed valley is, it’s certainly no fun.
We’re right smack in the middle of it, these days. In this new season of Lent. But we have a God who is here with us, in it.
And this God, this one Jesus Christ does several things: First of all, Jesus weeps. What is that about?! Especially in the Gospel of John! If you’ve been following along, or listening to my interpretations of John, I continually find Jesus to be completely in control, cool and in command. He loves everyone, but I haven’t seen him lose it before. After all, Jesus is all divine. There’s no question about that, according to John. All these signs, all these miracles, all point to his divinity.
So what’s he cryin’ about!? He has the power to raise Lazarus!
:) If any of us had the power to raise the dead, if I had the power to raise the dead, I’d show up to your house after the death of your loved one, and I’d be like, “Step aside everyone! Check this out!” I don’t think tears would be my issue. If anything I think most of us would be a little more like a stoic hero. Like a paramedic or a firefighter or a police officer. I mean they’re all so cool and calm amid crisis and tragedy. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve never seen them cry, right in the middle of it...
But Jesus weeps! Ponder that this week. I think one could write a doctoral dissertation on this shortest verse in all of Scripture, especially because it’s John’s Gospel. I don’t have the answer as to what that’s all about, but I will say: Jesus weeping points to Divinity also. This is not counted as one of the 7 signs, but I think it should be: What kind of a God cries?!
Ours does. Tears say, “I’m with you.” Ever been with a friend when you were really hurting, who didn’t have an answer or any wise words, but just started crying with you? I’ve never felt so heard, so understood, so accompanied, so loved.
And that’s just a tiny glimpse of our God, who so deeply and completely hears, understands, accompanies and loves us. Maybe that’s what those tears were about...
Jesus is here right smack in the middle of our pain, of our sorrow, of our fear, of our losses, of our anxieties and of our tears. All this happens — not after the raising and unbinding — but before it, when things really, literally stink! Christ is there, present, loving, weeping. Never felt so loved.
And then, the final sign — the raising of Lazarus is the final sign of the Gospel of John. The whole second half of the book of John is the Passion narrative. So this is it, and what a finale this is to (what’s been called) the Book of Signs, the first half of John’s Gospel!
Harken back to the first sign: Back when Jesus turned the water to wine. Mary, who was there then and is here at the tomb of Lazarus as well, said back then, “Do whatever he tells you.” Do you remember that? She said this to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”
As Jesus’ seven signs unfold through John’s narrative, Jesus is always giving a command, telling his “sheep” to do something:
whether it’s “fill the jars with water,” or “take up your mat and walk,” or “gather whatever food is left over,” “go wash in the pool of Sent”...and today, “Lazarus, come out!...Unbind him and let him go!”
Let’s heed Mary’s advice: “Do what he tells you.” Why? Because when we do what Jesus tells us to do, good things happen, God’s glory is revealed. Because when we listen, when we trust, then we see and walk and eat and rise from the dead...and finally understand.
We’re all sheep of the Good Shepherd, remember? And sometimes we go astray. And God’s gonna love us even when we fail miserably at listening, trusting, seeing and understanding Jesus…
But our life becomes abundant when we follow Mary’s advice, and “do whatever Christ tells us to do.”
Not only has Jesus given sight to the blind, health to the sick, food to the hungry, and brought a crazy-good party to the wedding feast in Cana...and to all our feasts here in La Mesa over the years, right?! Not only has Christ done all this, he even raises the dead!
He even brings us through our valleys, through our losses, through our pain, definitely through our tears, through death itself, and gives us life.
This life is ours — not just at the Great Feast That is To Come — this “resurrection and life” is ours right now, right smack in the middle. Right here in our valley, the Shepherd is with us.
Now that’s something worth celebrating! Thanks be to God. Amen.