The seeds of love and life planted even in death
“Lord if you were here, my brother wouldn’t have died,” Mary and Martha of Bethany both exclaim to Jesus. These two sisters, we hear in our Gospel reading, had an extremely strong faith. Remember that Mary had of course anointed Jesus’s feet with an extremely costly perfume much to the frustration of the disciples whom I presume thought the money could be better spent on other aspects of their mission. And Martha had spent the day cleaning the house to ensure it was a hospitable place for his arrival. Yet their faith in Jesus as the one with the power to heal and to save is at the heart of their, anguished and probably disappointed and angry cries. Put another way, “Jesus, you alone could save my brother, why didn’t you come.”
Mary’s and Martha’s words to Jesus point us back to God’s promise through his prophet Ezekiel to make alive again those who have died. God asks Ezekiel, “mortal, can these dry bones, the dead members of the people of Israel, live?” Ezekiel answers, “God you alone know.” And so begins God’s response to Ezekiel that will echo down through the ages all the way to Mary and Martha and through them, to you and I:
“So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them ... and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude … these bones are the whole house of Israel.” Though the Israelites see the death of their loved ones and say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely,” tell them that they shall see and know that I am the LORD, when I open [their] graves, and bring [them up from [their] graves ... I will put my spirit within [them], and [they] shall live.”
Mary’s and Martha’s expectations of Jesus here then are not unfounded. They had obviously heard and perhaps seen his healing, of his claims to be the one who was and would reveal God and God’s promises of restoration and reconciliation to their people. So When Jesus tells Martha that the dead will rise, she replies, “I know this, I know that he will rise in the in the resurrection at the last day.” But Jesus comes back to her and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She replies, “yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." And off she goes to tell Mary about this encounter with Jesus.
Seemingly not consoled by her sister Martha’s words, Mary rushes out to greet Jesus and immediately says, “Jesus if you had been here Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” Notice Jesus doesn’t simply begin instructing Mary as he had Martha. When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. In fact, he weeps with them. He comes to Martha where she’s at – a slightly more intellectual inclination satisfies. But so too he comes to where Mary is – needing someone to come alongside her in her grief, someone who knows loss, anguish, and death, someone who will bear with her in grief. But also, the only one who can relieve it. As our reading from Ezekiel says where hope seems lost in death, “I, the Lord, will raise you from death, I will tell you this in so many ways, and I will do it by coming to you, giving myself to you, and giving you life in me.”
Indeed Jesus, cries out with each one of us in our losses. His words and acts, recorded as they are in our Scriptures, embodied in the members of his body, the Church, shown in our liturgies of worship in new life and in death, provide comfort in our darkness and the sadness and anger of losing those we love. But these very embodied encounters with Jesus through the body he has raised from the dead – his Church – help us to rest in something more than just personal encounter. For remember that just as Jesus wept with Mary, his words to Martha remind us of the act that will enflesh and put the breath of the Holy Spirit not just in Lazarus, but in all of us: his faithfulness to God and neighbor in going to the Cross. It is there that as he cried out, deeply disturbed with Mary and the Jews he will cry out from the Cross: my God, my God, why have you foresaken me, your people, your creation? Where are you, do you not see how all your human creatures have sinned and bound themselves to decay and death. My God, my God show yourself and raise your people to life. And we know that three days later, Jesus’s words to Martha and his word through Ezekiel to all those who believe in him are fulfilled: put your fingers just here Thomas, in the wounds of my flesh, for I have been raised and in me, so have all those whom you have lost. Your God does not forsake you. You are not abandoned. You are not left alone. He is with you now.
My friends, you and I have seen and heard and know this truth: the dead are raised. Those who live now are healed in the reality of that promised fulfilled. This is the reality that we now live in, even if we can no longer see those whom we love. Their lives and the ways in which they have touched our lives with love, with challenge, and with joy, give us glimpses into the dawning light of grace breaking across this dark world that is sometimes chaotic, confusing, frustrating, and sad. But God’s gift to us of their earthly lives shared with us, opens to us the hope of resurrection and reconciliation. There is certainly a time. A time for sadness and crying, and a time for contemplation and learning, and a time, God’s time, to simply allow ourselves to be moved, however we are struggling for God’s healing presence right now, to where and how he will come to us and do this. AMEN.