John 11:25-26
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
We have heard many times the story of Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary. We know the things that were said, for instance, both of the sisters said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And, the words that Jesus speaks have echoed in the hearts of Christians throughout the ages: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” And the powerful words at the climax of the story: “Lazarus, come out!”
But I want us to think this weekend about something else in this marvelous story. Jesus knew what was about to happen. The tragedy of death was not going to succeed in tearing apart the hearts of those who loved Him and whom he loved.
Think about this in light of what we are experiencing now. There is so much confusion, and fear regarding this coronavirus. Now, we need caution, but we do not need fear. God has not abandoned humanity. As I said last weekend, it may be that he has removed his protective hand. But that is not the same thing as Him abandoning us.
Without a doubt, we can place some confidence in medical science that it will come up with a solution to this pandemic. What I am concerned about is that some people will see the ultimate success that we have in fighting this as some other proof that we no longer need God.
I have been asking myself what will happen when all of this is done. Will we see a greater return to the faith, or will we see less? Will the habit of coming to church, having been broken for even a short time, lead people away? Will the fear that something more will happen draw people back to the faith? Or, better, will it kindle in people’s hearts love for a God who sees us through these things?
Notice the people’s reaction in the gospel. Martha and Mary still did not lose hope. They did not see a way out, but they did not lose hope in Jesus. But, what about those who came to see the sisters? They commented on the miracle working Jesus. But they did not understand what he was about to do. Or what he was capable of doing.
No one, not even the sisters, expected Jesus to raise Lazarus. But that is what he had in mind all along. Why do you think there was no comment about the stench that Martha was worried about? Jesus had already set it up! He knew exactly what had happened, and what he was going to do about it. Jesus was fully in control, even though death and the grave seemed to succeed.
This is where our faith needs to come in. In our day, with our crisis, do we trust – really trust – that Jesus is in control? Yes there are deaths. I even heard of a priest in Italy who gave up his ventilator for someone else, and then died. Shall we call him a martyr? We have to leave that to the church.
But there needs to be heroic action on the part of Christians. There is a group of people here in our parishes who are taking this seriously. They are ready to volunteer to help those who cannot get out for such simple things as groceries. This is living for Christ.
The challenge that Jesus makes to Martha should resonate in every one of our hearts: “Do you believe this?” Do you trust in this time of upheaval that Jesus’ promises, and more importantly his claims are truth? Jesus makes some serious declarations about himself here and to Saint Thomas on another occasion. Here, he says “I am the resurrection and the life” and to Saint Thomas he says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
What do you hear when you hear these words from Jesus? Do they fill you with hope? Do they stir your imagination, and your longing? Do they encourage your trust? Do they lead you to respond like Martha who said “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Lord, you have told us not to be afraid. But it is far too easy to go down that road. Give us today the trust we need to be like Martha. Help us not to doubt like Thomas. But help us to hear your voice, just as Lazarus did, calling us from death to life – not just at the end of our lives, but right now.
Do not let us give in to the temptations of fear. But help us to stand strong in the power of your Spirit, that we may draw others to you because they see our hope in times that could easily be filled with despair. You are the way the truth and the life. You are our resurrection and hope. Help us to listen to your strong voice calling each of us by name. Amen.