There is an undeniable streak of cynicism running through the Gospel story today. A kind of “What’s the point?” pall that seems to hang over this whole story from beginning to end.
Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness, and promptly decides not to act upon that news.
“How can that be?” we ask, along with many in the story. “How could Jesus blow off his close friend, the brother of his beloved Mary and Martha in their time of great need? What kind of friend is Jesus, if he can’t drop everything and come running when needed?”
The Disciples have a cynical outlook on the whole prospect of returning to Judea.
“Hey, weren’t they just gathering up the rocks there to stone us???” you can hear them thinking.
Despite attempts by Jesus to turn this into a “teaching moment” about light and walking in the light, Thomas at least continues in the attitude that is pretty clearly resignation.
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Martha is no ray of sunshine, recriminating Jesus when he approaches. “Lord if you had been here….”
Mary echoes her sister’s comments, using practically the same words. “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
The sisters have no doubt been talking with each other and rehearsing what they would say when Jesus finally showed up… and it’s not pretty. For all the assurances of their faith, the knowledge of him “rising on the last day,’ and the outside hope that “even now God will grant whatever you ask of him.” The problem of Jesus’ hesitation hangs over the whole story. Their words to him are forced, as if to say, “yes we know but… it’s a little late now.”
The crowd assembled is at the same time impressed with Jesus’ coming to be with the grief-stricken family, and with his own evident grief, but they are also skeptical. “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind had kept this man from dying?”
Even Jesus feel a bit caught up by heavy mood at first. He is moved to tears yes, overwhelmed with emotions at the hardness of reality of this death most final, — he has been four days in the tomb which is “dead-dead” in Jewish culture.
He inquires of where the body of his friend is lain.
He has words of hope for Martha, assurances for Mary, but he also evidently feels the need to lift up his own prayers to his Father.
He does so as a witness to the crowds, or so we are told by him.
But, I suspect there is also a matter of Jesus’ own need here. We have grown accustomed through the Gospels of watching him find a place to pray, to find solace away from the crowds to commune with the Father.
Here however, he opens up here in plain sight and earshot out of his own need. “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know you always hear me….”
Giving voice to that inner knowledge appears to be important for Jesus. It is not just so the crowds who can overhear, but the prayer is also for Jesus himself.
It this act of “prayer out loud” that lifts Jesus out of the inexorable pull and drag of this world upon him and upon everyone in the story.
Even, and perhaps especially, the Messiah, the Son of God feels the weight of the world from time to time.
And that, beloved in the Lord, is where I want to take a jog from the Gospel into our own world and experience right now, for if I hear anything these days it is about the overwhelming cynicism that has become own experience.
There is an undeniable streak of cynicism that runs through our daily lives, and we often feel quite powerless to address it, or to deal with it, or to find ways to stave it off from pulling us ever deeper into resignation.
This is where our lives touch this story of Lazarus, for if we are honest with ourselves we will recognize that our question is the same as that on the lips of Mary, Martha, the disciples and the crowd.
Where is Jesus?
The cynicism that runs through this story runs through us as well, as so many of us reel at the changes and the accusations and actions of those in power.
“Where is God?” we ask. “How could this, whatever ‘this’ is for you, happen?”
No amount of “it’ll be all right” will do to address the fact that someone, something appears to have died.
No amount of reassurance, or calling to mind the past, or looking with hope to the future working itself out will deal with rotting corpses.
We can no more pull ourselves out of the funk of cynicism these days than the disciples, or Mary and Martha, or the crowds could that day as they gathered at the tomb of four-day-dead Lazarus.
Words alone just don’t have the power to do that, not even eloquent prayers or wishful hopes.
No, what is required is nothing short of an experience of resurrection. Words that resonate with action, and that has to come in the form of an experience quite literally “lived” by all those involved.
A body called forth from the tomb has to come to life.
A crowd has to see that event, and watch as the bound-one staggers out.
A closer group has to have a “hands on” experience with resurrection, be instructed to touch, to “unbind him and let him go.”
Nothing short of a resurrection experienced will have any effect on the pall of cynicism. Something has to happen that is totally unexpected or anticipated, even though longed for. Mary, Martha, Lazarus himself and the crowds gathered that day, yes even Jesus himself, will have to witness and experience it as it unfolds to dispel the darkness that currently envelopes them.
And that, curiously enough, brings us back to our day as well, and claiming something that we have perhaps lost in the midst of all the cynical stuff around us, which is who are we!
Are we not referred to as a “Resurrection People?”
Are we not witnesses to the Resurrection, and to the power of that Resurrection, and have been now for 2000 years?
And where did we see Resurrection?
Oh, beloved, we see it every day!
We see it, but our eyes must be lifted from the fog of cynicism that would keep them from seeing it.
You witnessed Resurrection when you walked into the door today. Did you see it?
You made a decision to not stay on your sofa, to not catch the early seating at brunch, to not pull the covers back over your head and hunker down.
You stepped inside a church, where others made that same decision, and it was a moment of resurrection. It was you saying defiantly to a word that wonders where Jesus is, that “Jesus is here.”
Jesus lives in the decision to gather, where the Word is preached and the Sacrament is administered.
Jesus becomes flesh again in the neighbor, and in the greeting, and in the voice uplifted, and in the bread and wine broken, given, shared.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” we defiantly proclaim, as if prophesying to dry old bones and we watch them come together again and take on muscle and sinew in the Body of Christ as it assembles.
Time has not erased the truth that because Christ Jesus was raised from the dead we too might have a new life.
Resurrection resides in the stocked pantry shelves, and in the sacrifices made to feed the hungry and cloth the naked.
Resurrection lives there because we don’t do those things just because they are a good idea, or because of the need or necessary, but because we follow a Risen Savior who has shown us how to love and has commanded us to feed.
Resurrection lives in the way we treat one another, in the kind and the tenderhearted words we speak to one another in the midst of our own grief.
Resurrection lives in the truth that must be spoken to power, the reminder of Last Judgment, the call to love, and forgive, and care for the vulnerable in society.
Resurrection lives in an offering taken, and in the decision to give that the lights may remain on and the organ may be tuned and story may be told once again.
Resurrection is evident in the notes of the singer, and in the passing of the peace, and in the lesson that is prepared and in the child who is welcomed and who feels welcomed.
Resurrection is found in the work of committees, and the silent service of cups filled with wine and linen lovingly arranged just as carefully as any folded linen cloth at the empty tomb.
You will witness resurrection in this world whenever you turn your eyes upward and pray, “I know that you always hear me…”
The furious plots and plannings of the kings, princes, presidents and nations have never been able to hold back the flood of justice and righteousness when God unleashes it.
“The arc of the moral universe is long” said Martin Luther King Jr. “but it bends toward justice.”
This is what we need to see in this Gospel today.
For all the cynicism that is displayed by all those involved in the story, when Resurrection is beheld the world is changed, and many come to believe.
This is what we do, Resurrection People. We dispel the cynicism of this world by witnessing to what we see every day.
We hear the call of Jesus that brings the dead out of their graves.
We watch as those who were formerly as dead to us make their way back to life.
We get busy with our own hands unbinding and setting free those who stagger back to life. We give them food. We give them hugs. We reach out and strip away, bit by bit, the things that hold them back.
We do all that by striding into this world to do the work of a Resurrected people.
Jesus is raised, and lives in us. Though cynicism may slow us down from time to time, we live in the assurance given to us by Jesus himself, and show to us by his resurrection, that in the end the very gates of hell cannot prevail against us.