Right before our gospel lesson begins, Martha and Jesus have a talk. Martha is upset that Jesus didn’t come to town earlier, knowing her brother Lazarus was sick, and Jesus assures her that he will rise again.
Assuming she knows what he means, Martha gives the orthodox answer: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” I imagine her to be getting a little more perturbed. She’s grieving after all.
But Jesus has something different in mind than a far-away, distant resurrection, far removed from her present grief. He says: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Surprised, she says she believes him.
So then, our reading picks up, and Mary goes to him, and Jesus is overwhelmed with her grief. And he weeps. He is not unmoved by the loss of their brother and his friend, Lazarus.
And they go to the tomb, and he asks them to roll away the stone in front of the tomb, and Martha balks saying that the stench of death will be too powerful. Jesus reminds her of their earlier conversation. How quickly Martha has forgotten that Jesus himself is the resurrection and the life, not simply a marker for some far away and distant event! Jesus says a prayer, and Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Jesus brings new life, not later, but now.
I find in this text an affirmation of some things that are really important in my understanding of God, and things that help me as I strive to respond to that understanding.
First, there is an acknowledgement that death is real. Lazarus’ death affects Mary and Martha and their community in a profound way. Loss is one of the few certainties of life, but wanting to avoid it we try to create certainty where there can be none. This story affirms the reality of that loss, and that the hurt that it causes pierces to the very heart of Jesus as he weeps himself.
Next, I love that this resurrection is in the here and now. Martha is focused on the far-off and distant future; on how new life must be something to happen later. Maybe Martha is still too busy with her work to be present to the here and now. Oh Martha. That’s all well and good. But Jesus in this story is here right now, and he is the life that conquers death right now.
And finally Jesus affirms that he destroys death without invalidating the very real and lived experience of death and loss. He weeps at the death of Lazarus. Mary, Martha and the whole community experience that death. But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus brings new life after experiencing that tremendous pain with them. It is both/and, not either/or— both death and new life.
I experience this world as a tension between death and life, between loss and joy, between self-protecting fear and sacrificial love.
I have experienced loss this past year around some important relationships. I have experienced loss that comes with aging as my children get older, especially as my son left for college this fall. I have experienced loss around our ability to have community and love each other nationally and globally. I have experienced sadness and loss at the Tree of Life shooting, at the mail bombings, and at the shootings in Florida at the yoga studio, and at the Capital Gazette, the Waffle House, the Kentucky Grocery store, and others.
But I have also found life. I have had joy in relationships. I have had laughter and fun and excitement with new and old friends. I have had pride at watching my son grow into a young man and find his own way, and as my daughter has started to see her value and begin to emerge from adolescence. I have had amazing family experiences. I have found solidarity by standing with others in the face of hatred. And of course, we at St. Paul’s have each other.
In the past year, what has been death for you? Where have you found new life?
Death is real. It is a part of being alive. But if we truly believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, it simply doesn’t have the final say. There is a healthy place for grief and loss in the Christian faith, and Jesus weeps with us when we hurt. It is completely appropriate to call out to God in anger when we experience loss, tragedy, or grief.
But there is also a certain kind of fatalism that is resigned not to allow new life to break in. That fatalism in the world is prepared for death to win. Sometimes it avoids healthy grief, coiling in on itself for protection from the assumption that death is inevitable, it does not weep like Jesus at the real hurt that comes from loss. It does not grieve and then open to new life, but grieves and then develops a hardened heart, closed to new life. It can develop a self-centeredness to protect and insulate from any perceived change or threat of further loss. It is human. I have been there. We all have. But it is not life-affirming.
I wonder if there is a place to find courage in the face of fear, with faith in the one who moves through death to provide new life, not later, but now. I’m not a big Dr. Phil fan, but he has this thing he says that I like: “This life you’ve been given is not a dress rehearsal.” Living a life of abundance now, looking for new life, may require a kind of vulnerability to grief. And a willingness to let it do its work so that we can move through it and be open to new life, so that we can live. We can only find Lazarus alive if we overcome our fear of the stench from opening the tomb.
Living that way, we may find that resurrection is not some kind of good to be purchased by loving our neighbors now. Instead, loving our neighbors is exactly what overcomes death here and now! God is love; God is new life!
Our current presiding bishop, Michael Curry, was on the Today Show this week. He said “We walk through the valley of the shadow of death by doing it together. When you are hurting, I will hold you up. When I am hurting, you will hold me up.” That is the road through the valley of the shadow of death. That is the road to green pastures. And that is the way of love that leads to resurrection, to new life. It is the basis of the community of faith. It is why community is the essential element of baptism: this journey of faith is about giving up self to be part of a larger whole. It is about finding new life in something bigger than we can imagine on our own.
The saints we honor on All Saints Day, understood that. They lived for new life right now. They loved freely. They sought new life freely, lived sacrificially for something besides themselves. That is the path to resurrection; the walk of love. Michael Curry again: “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It is self-centeredness. If we all live self-centered lives, then I’m in the middle and everyone else is on the periphery. We can’t even have a society that way.” Looking for new life in the midst of death requires that we see beyond ourselves.
In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we bring 8! New bodies into this community of faith where we commit to hold each other up. We commit to try to live resurrection lives together, to practice loving each other selflessly, knowing we will fail, but knowing that the life of resurrection will change us. And we commit to doing that so that we can go out in the world, and spend the other six days living resurrection lives where it may be a little bit harder to see new life, to live lives of love, in a world that wants sometimes wants death to win.
How will we practice living lives of resurrection here? How will we live lives of resurrection out there? Whether it is as simple as small acts of kindness during the week, or some larger, bolder, more courageous act, I pray that you may be emboldened by the One who is the resurrection and the life to live an abundant life of love each and every day, each of you. You are saints, every one. Are you out there looking for new life? If not, what is stopping you?
The Rev Canon Jeff Martinhauk
All Saints (Transferred), November 4, 2018
Curry video on Today: https://youtu.be/_C2kj-uvtN8
Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5243