Graves and Stones

We had another long lesson from John’s Gospel this Sunday (Chapter 11 this time on Lazarus).  Here’s my sermon….

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Lent 5A — John 11:1-45

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” These words of greeting from Martha to Jesus always sound somewhat judgmental and accusatory to my ears. “Lord, if you hadn’t taken too long, if you had come when we asked you to, if you had made us your priority, my brother would still be here among us, still be eating meals with us. If you had acted, Jesus, things would have turned out differently.”

It’s a lament. A feeling that those of us who have experienced great loss or trauma know only too well. “Jesus, if you had acted, things would have been so different for me in my life.” But you didn’t act, Jesus. You didn’t come. You didn’t answer my call, my prayer. And now look what has happened.

Jesus assures her that her brother will rise again, and she’s thinking at the end of the age.

And then Mary comes out to meet Jesus, and says the same exact thing. Jesus is so overcome with grief for his friend, he begins to weep. Others also join in on questioning Jesus. “If he could open the eyes of the blind man, surely he could have healed Lazarus and avoided this turmoil.

As he comes to the tomb, Jesus sees that there is a stone covering the cave. “Take away the stone,” he tells them. And Martha says, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, since he’s been dead four days already.” Lord, he’s dead and gone, why do you want to roll back the stone?

He simply responds, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory?” and they roll away the stone, and Jesus prays and then says with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

And then the formerly dead man comes out, still bound up in the cloths they had covered his body with a few days before. “Unbind him, and let him go,” Jesus tells them. They do. And Lazarus is rejoined with his sisters and his friends and I can’t even begin to imagine the celebration they have that night with all the casseroles and comfort food that people had brought over to Mary and Martha’s house.

What I cannot help but wonder is how many times we say this to Jesus ourselves. “Lord, if you had been present, this wouldn’t have happened.” If you had acted the way I wanted you to, I wouldn’t have experienced the pain, Lord. Jesus, when I called for you, you lingered and stayed away, but I needed you. If you had come, my daughter might not have suffered like she did, my father might not have died, I might not have been traumatized by that abuse. Jesus, if you had acted, I wouldn’t have lost my job, or watched my marriage crumble, or born the hardship of that miscarriage. Jesus, if you had come when I asked I might not have become addicted, or had that affair. Jesus, you just didn’t come.

And Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and we go the same route as Martha, thinking Jesus is talking about the great hereafter and not about the here and now. And Jesus makes his way to the place where that pain is buried, where the hurt lies deep inside us, still covered, still walled off by that stone we put there long ago. “Take away the stone,” he says.

“Lord, you don’t understand; it’s been years since this happened, and the stench is overwhelming. That part of my life has been long since buried and hidden, it has long since died. It’s too far gone. There’s no use. The stink is putrid. Don’t, Lord, don’t open up that place.”

“If you believe,” he says, “you will see the glory of God.”

And there it is. I’ve only been here a few months, and I’ve heard a few stories about the places deep within a few of you that are causing immense pain. I know without a doubt there are more stories out there. Those of you in this place who were abused as a child. Those who have faced or are facing immense pain in your marriages. Those who have had a loved one taken much too soon. Those who have suffered unimaginable harm in ways known to you alone. And those experiences, that hurt, that piece of you that died on that day, has been carefully wrapped up and placed in that tomb. The rock has been rolled in front of it, and you figured it was gone forever.

“Take away the stone,” Jesus says to us this morning.

He says this because he wants to bring healing. Jesus wants to bring life. Resurrection. Restoration. Renewal. Jesus wants to take the hurt away.

You see, for whatever reason, Jesus didn’t seem present on that day when we thought we needed him. But he’s here now. He’s present. And he wants us to move the stone so he can act.

Moving that stone means becoming vulnerable. It means opening ourselves up to the power of Christ. It means talking about something that was buried long ago so that we can experience the transformative power of Jesus.

Lazuarus, come out!

“Come out!” he says to us. Come experience the healing and life I have for you. Come and be healed. Come out, and live.

Will we remove the stone and open ourselves up to his healing? Will we trust that while the stench may be overpowering, that he can bring about new life? Will we hear his call when he tells us to come out of the grave that we’ve been in for so long? Will we allow ourselves to struggle out of the tomb, making our way as best we can with the cloths so tightly wound around us?

He desires this for us. And he longs to say, “Unbind them, and let them go.” Amen.