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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
November 05, 2023
Grace to you and peace from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve had a hard year as a congregation. We’ve had a lot of deaths. There are 19 names that we’ll read today during the prayer petition for the saints of Saint Andrew’s. People we have known and loved and who now rest with God. And we remember them together with the names and memories of family and friends that we hold in our hearts.
We know that death is part of life, that grief is the price we pay for love, and that Jesus will gather us all together on the last day. But that doesn’t make it any less painful when our loved ones die.
That pain is all through today’s reading.
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic and difficult ones in scripture. In John’s gospel, it’s the event that gets Jesus arrested. To resurrect someone from the dead was so offensive to Jewish law that it led to Jesus’ own death.
But for a while, it seemed like Jesus wasn’t going to go to Bethany at all. We know that he took his time getting there after hearing that Lazarus was ill. And when he finally did get there, Lazarus had already been dead for four days, so the people were understandably upset.
In our reading today, we only hear Mary say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But a few verses earlier, Martha said it, too. And whereas Mary was on her knees in a posture of submission when she said it, Martha went out and met Jesus directly as he was coming into town. She was angry and resentful because he’d taken so long to come to them.
But then in the next breath, she voiced her trust in Jesus and in his power. With good reason, the emotions for both women seemed to be all over the place.
And that’s where Jesus met them. He met them in their grief and began to weep with them. He knew that death causes separation that defies understanding, and grief beyond anything we can imagine being able to get through.
And when Jesus wept with Mary and Martha and the others, he acknowledged all of that. And when he raised Lazarus, he knew that it wouldn’t cancel out the pain they were feeling.
But when he raised Lazarus, Jesus revealed that he has the power to give life now. Not only on the last day, but now. Because Jesus is life itself.
As Christians, that’s something we know and hold in our hearts. That Jesus is life. John’s gospel reminds us that it has been that way from the beginning – that Jesus, together with God – is the source of life.
Even when we aren’t consciously thinking about it, we carry that assurance with us day-to-day. But the power of it is at the core of what we believe, and it defines the way we live.
It gives us hope for life today, and holds us steady when things like death threaten to throw us off balance. And when death overshadows us, it gives us the courage to seek and nurture life in our midst.
Author E.B. White is best known for his children’s books, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. But his wife Katharine was also a writer and a diligent gardener, so she wrote about gardening. After her death, White compiled her essays into a book and helped edit it.
In the introduction, he wrote that in the October before Katharine died, she planned the planting of bulbs in their yard, and she kept a detailed chart of what would be planted where. She was in congestive heart failure, so she did this even though she knew she might not live to see them grow in the spring. And White described her diligence in this act as calmly plotting the resurrection.
She died in July of the following year, so she did get to see the flowers bloom.
My predecessor here, Pastor McEachran, frequently says that death is rude. And he’s right. It has no regard for what we want, or our plans, or our timeline – it just comes in when it wants to and takes.
But, as Christians, we don’t center our lives around death. We center them around life – we center them around Jesus. We plan for life. We plot the resurrection. That defines how we live.
We map out our gardens for the coming spring. We make preparations for things like retirement and celebrations and vacations, and even for the not-so-fun stuff like home remodels. We help each other look ahead to the things that bring rejoice in life and bring renewal.
It doesn’t mean we ignore death, or pretend that we’ll never have to deal with it. And it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve when it comes. Because we do. We mourn what it takes from us. And for as hard as it is to do, it’s important that we do it.
The mix of emotions that comes with human grief hasn’t changed or gone away since the time of Jesus. It’s messy, and horribly inconvenient. And when we grieve someone’s death, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t faithful or that we don’t trust the promise of the resurrection.
When we grieve, we proclaim the truth that death hurts – it breaks our hearts. And as Christians we also proclaim our hope in the power of the cross of Christ, and the resurrection of those who are his children. It’s the hope that’s grounded in Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”
As Christians, we center our lives around life – around Jesus. In that life, there is no death or grief or fear so deep and dark that the voice of Jesus cannot reach into it, call us out, and bring life. Because Jesus is life. Thanks be to God! Amen.