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Sermon Notes

May 17th 2020

In the reading from Acts today, Paul stands in the Greek city of Areopagus- a city dedicated to honoring all the “gods” of the various cultures of the day—and he points out that the Greeks have a statue dedicated to the “Unknown God.”

“I’m here,” he basically tells the Athenians, “to tell you about that Unknown God.”

The “Unknown God,” Paul says, cannot be kept in stone, gold, or shrine. This God-Is the living Lord, who made all that is on and of earthy, including stones, gold, and shrines.  This God stands above all, beyond all, giving to “all mortals life and breath and all things.” This God made “all nations to inhabit the earth”—all peoples, of all times—and made all peoples, of all times, in such a way that they would search for God, the One in whom all “live and move and have (their) being.”

And then Paul says something really interesting.

This unknown God made all people so that “they would search for God and perhaps grope for God, and find God”—though in spite of this, God “is not far from each one of us.”

There’s a word for our day!  With all that is out there claiming religious authority—or not caring a whit about it, only “perhaps” groping for God and the things of God—Paul’s witness is that the one true God is right among us, not far from us, even as we might only at best be dimly aware of it.

Paul’s witness continues:  this God comes to us – to all of us—asking that we care enough about the gift of life to “repent” of the ways we have abused it, or Harmed it, or taken away from it.  And he says that the world itself will be judged by “a man” God has appointed—and shown the authenticity of the promise by raising that man from the dead.

We aren’t a people who necessarily like thinking about being judged by God—any more, likely, than the Athenians were.  Particularly today, we’re perhaps more inclined to asking judging questions of God.  What is going on in this world that you have made?  Have you, indeed, made it?  Where do we see you in it, especially given this latest global crisis, global pandemic, with millions of people suffering, untold people dying- and the story of it all not even over yet?

But God, Paul indicates, is not fazed by our judging questions.  God sits still as we aim those questions at God, a steady eye on us:  “But what about you? What have you done with this gift of life?”

And God, Paul says—this God, even knowing the answer, even knowing the countless ways we have abused the lives of our neighbors, our world, and ourselves—this God gives us Jesus, Risen from the dead, both as the answer to any judgmental question we might put before God, and as the answer to any like question God might put before us.

To the question of how we will be judged for our living, grace is given:  God’s gift of life- even our own, in spite of anything we have done to do it in—will continue, in Christ, even after death, by and through the promise of Christ’s resurrection.

To the question of whether God cares about or is involved in the unfolding drama of life, God answers, in Christ, with grace:  God is present, caring so much about life that God demands answers, accountability, for our lack of care for it- and caring so much about it,  God raised Jesus from death, to promise us that however much we think God is out of the picture, even in death, God is most certainly just the very opposite: Present.

And then we have the witness of the gospel of John:

“If you love me,” Jesus says, “You will keep my commandments.”

And those commandments aren’t a moral code.  They aren’t named by Jesus, one through ten—with a good hundred or so more detailed commands, just for good measure.

Those commandments are not weaponized judgements to use to control, batter, or condemn others. 

They are not whipping posts for ourselves either, ours to use without mercy on our own lives.

We keep the commandments, the statues that Paul, speaking to the Athenians, were the measure by which all people would be judged—by loving Jesus.

That’s it.

That’s all.

We do what God created us for, intends for us, and wants for us, by loving Christ.

And look at the One who asks us to fulfill the commands of God by loving him!

Jesus is the one who asks God to give us the Holy Spirit, the “Advocate,”

The Spirit of truth.  The Spirit who gives us a peace that passes understanding to quiet us, the mind of Christ in which to keep us, the yoke of Christ which is through and through only rest,

And words to speak of all of the above.

Jesus is the one who will not leave us “orphaned.” Jesus gives us the promise that even when seems God is not there, not there at all, God is, as a beloved parent loves an even more beloved child.

Jesus, Risen from the dead, is the one who promises us that because he lives, we will too.  God’s intention is not that we succumb to the dust.  God’s intention, God’s will, is that we are healed, as Jesus healed a man blind from birth; that we are fed, as were the 5,000, with bits of bread and fish, that we are forgiven, as Peter was, for each one of his betrayals.

God’s will is that we walk out of the grave—both as we are buried, one day, and now, as we live, that we walk out of all that would bury us out of the ways of love, out of the ways of hope, out of the ways of life.

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who loves us with an everlasting love.

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who knows the very number of hairs on our head.

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who says to all of us- as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, in John 8”  “Who is left to condemn you?  Go, and sin no more.”

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who cares more about feeding his hungry friends then abiding by careful religious ritual.

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who took children into his arms to bless them, overlooking and unheeding those who said that doing so did not say much for his authority.

We keep the commandment God would have us keep by loving the one who calmly refused the call to arms as he was taken captive before his trial;

By loving the one who looked at Pilate with calm resistance; to mirror the emotional hurricane of the political and religious forces of the day;

By loving the one who took up the cross not so much as a punishment from God on our behalf as a consequence of remaining in love, in peace, and in truth, regardless of the scope of the powers around him demanding that he do otherwise.

This is a command to love that is no command.

Because as you get love, you get that it isn’t a command.

At all.

To love is to take on the Being of God.

To love is to take on the Way of God.

To love is to take ahold of the utterly astounding promise that your life matters- your life, even in this pandemic—that your life is of value, even in the chaos of this day, that you are a child of God, beloved in Christ, even as the virus makes it seem none of us count.

To love is to absorb that promise, to find the deep and rich  life that is within it,

And then,

To give it flesh.

Even as Jesus, Risen from the Dead,

Gives himself to us, still, in this time, in this day.

Amen

April 26th 2020

The Reading of the Holy Gospel:   Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
  28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

In the gospel text for today, the first thing that might strike us is this:

Two of Jesus’ disciples—who have never before been named in the Gospel Accounts are walking away from Jerusalem, where the crucifixion and resurrection have taken place.

They are walking far away—from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile walk.  That’s about a walk from the mall in Federal Way to the Mall in Tacoma.  No small walk.

Even though they know all that has just taken place- they are talking about Jesus’ crucifixion, and about how just that morning, Mary Magdeline had come to them with the baffling word that Jesus had been raised from the dead—they walk away from Gethsemane and Golgatha, away from the garden where Jesus’ grave lay.  Far away.

They walk away from the disciples, who, as we read last week, were holed up in Jerusalem, “behind closed doors.”

We aren’t told why they walk to Emmaus, or what’s in Emmaus that would cause them to want to take the long trek to there.

We aren’t told why they leave the locked room others stay pensively behind.

We aren’t told why they don’t move to Jesus’ tomb as fast as they can, looking to see themselves what Mary is talking about.

We only now that they have left, that they are walking, and that they are having an intense conversation about everything that has happened.

And then- there is this.

Luke tells us:

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

They are moving away from the cross, away from the proclamation of Easter Morning—a long walk away.  But as they travel far, “Jesus himself came near.”

This reminds me of that old story of Jonah.  Told to go and proclaim God’s care for the city of Niniva, Jonah went exactly the opposite way.  But God drew near to Jonah, even in a whale, so near that Jonah changed his course.  Niniva, here comes Jonah.

In last week’s gospel reading, Jesus also “draws near” to a people who were anywhere but close to him.  His closest friends, who had taken a hike away from the cross– and if they had witnessed the empty tomb, aren’t quite in the garden- lock themselves up behind closed doors, for fear.

And Jesus comes to them.   Jesus himself “came near.”

The same thing happens a little later in the gospel for last week.  Thomas hasn’t been behind the locked doors.  He just can’t take the whole thing anymore.  He’s completely abandoned ship.  He won’t even take the word of those who had traveled close beside him for 3 long years.  His heart is away, closed, hard.

Unless he sees Jesus’ hands, and touches Jesus’ side, he flat-out won’t believe.

Once again, Jesus “came near.”  Touch my hands, he says to Thomas.  Put your finger in my side.

That’s what the risen Jesus does.  Over and over and over again, he “draws near” to those who have and are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the cross, away from the empty tomb.

He draws near, as the father in the story of the Prodigal.

He draws near, as the shepherd looking for his lost sheep.

He sweeps, and finds, even as the woman looking for a precious coin.

These days, it might not take more time than a blink of an eye to move in the opposite direction of Easter.  For all we have cheered as we see God’s presence among us in first responders, in the signs of love and hope we’ve put in our windows, in our persistence to communicate with one another in spite of it all, as this goes on and on, a weariness is setting in.

We want out.

We want what was.

We want- yearn for!- physical gathering.

Easter Alleluias are going to going to get or getting more and more difficult the longer this persists.

But for all we might find ourselves drifting – or actually getting on the road to Emmaus and walking away—Jesus still draws near.

Jesus draws near to walk beside us.

Jesus draws near that we might hear that all of Scripture—all of it!–exists to reveal God’s love for us, poured out in all of its fullness in God’s son.

Jesus draws near to us that our hearts might “burn within us,” know a powerfully profound fire of warmth, peace, and hope, even as we walk away, not toward.

Jesus draws near to us, Paul says, while we are yet broken.

Jesus draws near to us as we grow tired of trusting, tired of holding it together, tired of looking to spot God among us.

Locked doors or not,

Closed hearts or not,

Walking to Damascus or not,

Jesus draws near.

As long as this gets, the risen Christ will not abandon us.

As much as even the hardiest among us start to wonder aloud if they can take it, Christ draws near.

As closer we are to snapping, for the growing division among us, the way word truth imparted to us, the in-your-face will to ignore the serious power of the virus, Christ draws near.

It might not seem that he is,

It might be feeling like he is receding. As we walk ahead in this,

But he is near.  He is hear.  Death couldn’t keep him away from us.  This awful virus can’t either.

Where we are blind, he will stay.

Where we sort of get it, but not quite, he will stay.

Where we are separated from one another, as those 2 on the Damascus road were from the others, he draws near.

The fire burns.  It might feel like an ember, at best.  But it is there. 

Christ is near, to speak to us and for us Alleluias yet.

Amen

              

April 19th 2020

A portion of Psalm 116- the psalm for today—serves as a profound backdrop for the disciples, these few days after Easter. 

Psalm 116:3 says:

The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.

I’ve never been able to get a super clear reading on what the word “Sheol” means.  Maybe because the word wants to be at once vague and complicated.  My best guess is that its meaning encompasses what another Psalm describes as a “dry and weary land, without water.”  It’s a place of fear; a place of hopelessness; a place of defeat; a place of end; a place of terror; a place of death.

Given this, I think it’s safe to say that the disciples were in “Sheol” when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week.

They had certainly known “Sheol” over the past 3 days.  They had stood hopeless before Jesus’ cross- and run away from it in terror.  Their dreams and hopes of having Jesus’ way be The way had evaporated in mere hours.  They had come to an end—they, and, they believed- the end of the one who had walked on water, cured on the Sabbath, feed the hungry, raised the dead to life.

What’s interesting is that there they are, on Easter evening, still in “Sheol” –even though the women and seen and brought them word of the empty tomb, even though Simon Peter-the rock on which the church would be built!- had seen the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head folded up and, as John’s gospel puts it, “lying apart from the other wrappings.”  The disciples are in “Sheol” even though Peter- their leader!- Mary Magdeleine, and the disciple John says “Jesus loved” had all in one way or another come face to face with the witness of Jesus’ resurrection from death.

Peter has looked at Jesus’ graveclothes, lying neatly apart from any body, and yet here he sits, in Sheol—behind closed doors, for “fear.” 

The “Disciple Jesus loved” has seen the same graveclothes, and immediately comprehended, John tells, us, and “believed.”  Yet here he is on Easter Evening, behind the doors of Sheol, despairing about what the powers around and about might do next.

Maybe Mary Magdeleine was there as well, that Easter Evening.  John’s gospel tells us that as soon as she realized the man she saw in the burial garden was no gardener, but her risen Lord, she found the disciples, and told them what had happened to her.   Maybe she, too, who had said the first Easter word, beyond the Angels—“I have seen the Lord!” is in Sheol, dreading what might happen next.

But Jesus is Lord.  Lord of the tomb.  Lord of the grave.  Lord of the cross.

Lord of Sheol.

And that Easter Evening—That Easter Evening!-as the disciples nonetheless continue in a “dry and weary land, where there is no Water”—  Jesus appears among them, doors or no doors, and says,

“Peace be with you.”

That word- “Peace”—is the exact opposite of the word, “Sheol.”  Where Sheol means end, peace means Safety.  Where Sheol means despair, Peace means salvation. Where Sheol means terror and hopelessness, Peace means sure confidence in God even in the valley of the shadow; out of the range of rage and the havoc of war and death.

It is Easter Evening.

The disciples don’t have it all together, even having seen and heard of Jesus’ resurrection.

Hardly.

They don’t’ wait eagerly at the empty tomb for Jesus.  They wait “behind locked doors” for the more trouble to come.

Even with Resurrection right there in front of them, the disciples live in Sheol.

And there, to their Sheol, in their Sheol, the Risen Lord says, “Peace.”

The disciples are not bound to their sins, but forgiven.  Even before any sign of repentance, any begging for mercy.  The abandonment at the cross?  Forgiven.  Their current lack of trust, as they wait behind those doors?  Forgiven.  Their totally lack of comprehension?  Forgiven.  Their constant bickering with one another, eager seeking for the number one seat?  Forgiven.  Their bumbling ways, including shouting that children should be quiet in the face of the Master, not receive blessings at his hand—forgiven.

To their Sheol, in their Sheol, the Risen Lord gives the ultimate power of hope:  The presence of the Holy Spirit, by and through which the disciples are given heart and breath to forgive, to give and share the gift of peace, of mercy, of reconciliation, of God’s presence, of hope.

Thomas, the doubter, was not present when any of this happened.

He was in a whole new level of Sheol.

He misery went way behind the misery of those behind the locked doors.

If they had a shred of hope, he had none.  Zero. Zip. None.

In Jesus’ gift of peace, the disciples come out of their Sheol. They leave their locked doors to go to tell Thomas that they had seen “the living Lord.”

Thomas refuses to remain anything but locked.

“Unless I see . . . .”

But Jesus is Lord of the particular Sheol of unbelief, too.  Jesus is Lord of a despair that has gone so deep, the despairing believes that his or her despair is an unbending wall of truth.

“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 

Jesus was with Thomas, freeing him from his Sheol, even Thomas was sneering at him, daring him to do so.

It’s the Sunday after Easter.

We’ve heard the story, even as Mary Magdeline, Peter, and the beloved disciples.  We’ve said, “My Lord and My God.” We’ve sung our Alleluias.

And yet—especially on this particular Second Sunday of Easter-  there are many ways in which each of us might be in Sheol.

Easter comes in the midst of a Pandemic.

Easter comes as we are isolated, for the care of one another—or at least, for the fear of our own lives.

Easter comes as we worry maybe not so much about war and rumors of it, but openings up, and rumors of them.

Easter comes as we long for the freedom of daily life, but sense deep threat in that freedom.

Easter comes as we are a people torn, many calling for caution, others ripping it to the winds.

We, people of God, are literally behind closed doors.

And it is here, as with those first disciples, that Jesus comes to us.

It is here that he comes to us with a word of Peace.

We have the gift of the Holy Spirit—the promise of God’s working for us, not against, the promise of the peace that passes understanding, the promise of the Risen Christ in our midst, the promise that we are his body, the promise of a love bedrock, and solid, the promise of the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting:

The promise that the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting has impact, power, and presence not just in a day to come, but here.  And now.

We might be behind closed doors.

But we are not in Sheol.

John’s gospel, indeed, witnesses to what can be trusted:

Jesus is here, Risen from the Dead.

And Jesus is here, giving us, by the scars in his hands, the nail prints in his side-

By his own experience in Sheol-

Peace.

          Easter Sunday April 12th 2020

Alleluia! He is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

I was telling a friend the other day that I know how to do Lent in this time.  Lent is about remembering that we are fragile, dust.  It’s about remembering our propensity to sin, our inclination to brokenness, our pull toward destruction.  It’s about how we grieve for our loved ones, and fear, yes, our own suffering and death.

That’s been kind of a given in this day of isolation, quarantine, and the Cornavirus.

But how do we do Easter?

That’s our theme, in fact, for this Easter season:  “Where is Easter in My Life?”

It’s a hard time.  It’s a really hard time. New York is reaching grief untold.  Here in Washington, we’ve had 6-7 deaths a day in the last week.  A day.  Schools are closing, the economy is teetering, and scientists and medical workers are driven, working day in and day out to find a way to get through this, and a cure.

I worry about our young people in this.  How will they do relationships, and establish new ones?  How will they celebrate graduations, and begin new paths? 

I worry about new parents, new pregnancies, new babies.

I worry about our economically vulnerable, and for all of us, economically.

I worry—and I worry and worry- about our vulnerable.

But, St. Paul says:  “We are More than Conquerors.”  More than conquerors, “Through him who loves us.”

Easter would not exist without Lent.  Easter exists, in fact, because of Lent. 

Jesus took to the cross not so much to pay God off for our sins.  What kind of God would that be, who demanded a ransom in order to set us free? 

Jesus did not take to the cross to somehow sign a deal with the devil to release us from all that is wrong in life.  That would be to give a whole lot of undue power to that Evil One.

Jesus died—Jesus died!- to free us precisely from what binds us, especially in these days. 

Jesus died to snatch us out of the hands of death, to deliver us from trespasses—our sin, other’s sin, our brokenness, other’s brokenness.  Jesus died to put an end to suffering, to wipe every tear away from every eye.

Jesus died to make all things new, to bring the hope of redemption to the whole of creation—and hope, as Paul says in Romans, for which creation even now “groans.”

Yes, all this will come in all its fullness in the day to come.  We hope for the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection of the Body, after all, and the Life Everlasting.

But Easter is also even now here.

Easter is also even now now.

Easter—God’s promise, in Christ, to make all things new- is here every time a First Responder brings life and hope to someone on a ventilator.

Easter- God’s promise, in Christ, to bring life out of death, hope out of chaos- is here every time we put on a mask to protect not only ourselves, but our neighbors, every time we don gloves to protect our neighbors as well as ourselves, every time we remain that 6’ distance from one another for one another’s health and good.

Easter is here every time we pray for another, connect with one another even in our isolation.  Easter is hear every time we laugh even in the midst of this.  Easter is here when we somehow in the very center of it find ourselves slowing down to hear and see what,  after all, is really important.

Easter is here in each “Alleluia”  we raise even in this quarantine, in every heart that hopes in what is that sure and certain hope of the Resurrection of the Body, and Life Everlasting.

Easter is here—and to come.

We can bank on it.

March 29th 2020            

Holy Gospel:  John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
  7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

  17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

  28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

  38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

  45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus.  Jesus had eaten in their home- shared food with them, and talked about God, faith, life, and the Torah with them.  Mary had actually sat at Jesus’ feet, listening and reflecting to all he said. This irritated Martha, who was busy in the kitchen- but Jesus said Mary had chosen what was better.

Bethany, where the sisters and their brother lived, was just outside Jerusalem.  The religious leaders there were eager to do Jesus in—he had become a pain in their side, with the way he spoke with authority not even they spoke with, his breaking religious tradition—even though every time it involved healing people—and most of all, his claim to be God’s only Son.  So to return to Jerusalem, Jesus faced a sure fate of crucifixion.

Lazarus dies.  The sisters had sent word to Jesus, asking him to come to Bethany to heal their brother.  Instead, Jesus stays where he is for four long days.  To all appearances, Jesus seems to have abandoned his friends.  But he has not.  He waits to go to Bethany so that his friends can experience God’s power in the worst place life goes- death. 

After four days, Jesus tells his disciples they are leaving for Bethany.  This upsets Thomas, who is certain the walk back there will end in their own death.   Jesus isn’t fazed.  Upon his return, he has a conversation with Martha.  She trusts Jesus implicitly.  She tells him that if he had been with them, her brother would not have died.  Jesus asks her just how much Martha trusts God with the gift of life.  Martha says that “on the last day” her brother will be raised.

Jesus says that he is the Resurrection and the Life—standing right in front of her.  Even in the midst of death. Joyful, Abundant life that is deeper than death isn’t someday.  It’s here.  It’s now.

And then Jesus goes to his friend’s tomb.  Mary is there, weeping.  Powerfully, Jesus joins her.  He, the resurrection and the life here and now, grieves the loss of his son.  The Greek word for “weeping” indicates Jesus is feeling emotion at the deepest level a human being can experience.  Present Resurrection and Life does not take away from the pain of death and grief.

Almost as he weeps, Jesus acts as the promise that he is:  He calls for Lazarus to come of his tomb.

And Lazarus comes out.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, grieving where death has overcome life, and calling forth life even in that death.

That is the Lord we have among us now.  Jesus is with us as we walk through this.  It might look like he’s abandoned us for a good deal more than four days—months, it looks like are ahead for us. 

But he’s here, right in the center of it all, weeping with us as we grieve, weeping with us in our terror, weeping with us in our ever-intensifying anxiety.

And more:  Even as he walks through this valley of the shadow with us, fully aware of its dark pain, he prepares a feast before us.  Right here, right now, in the presence of this enemy. 

God hasn’t brought us here.

But God is working, in Christ, here, calling us and moving us—as with Lazarus—to “come out.”

Jesus is right here, weeping in this Lent.  Jesus is right here, giving strength and peace in this Lent.

And Jesus is right here, moving us, and God’s beloved world, toward Easter.  Toward the promise of Resurrection, and Life.