John 11:1-45 Fifth Sunday of Lent 29 March 2020
Passiontide begins today. This is the name for the last two weeks of Lent beginning today, the 5th Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday) and ending on Easter Eve (the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Day). The following are thoughts on today’s Gospel Reading
Sometimes things seem hopeless and we feel helpless. Perhaps some feel like this about the present coronavirus pandemic. This is probably how Martha and Mary felt when their brother Lazarus had died. They were a close family unit, they were close friends of Jesus, so when Lazarus fell ill, the sisters Mary & Martha sent to Jesus for help (v3). By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had died. It seemed a hopeless situation and Martha and Mary felt helpless. When Jesus did arrive, Mary was weeping, the friends who had come to comfort her were weeping, it was a sad time and Jesus felt that sadness. And so v35, the shortest verse in the bible, ‘Jesus wept’.
The tears of Jesus were not ‘professional tears’, not those of a hired mourner, not those of someone inwardly detached from the situation, not pretend tears. They were tears of someone emotionally involved, someone whose heart was touched, who was deeply moved. His sorrow was not expressed with words, but with tears, the language of the heart. As with Martha and Mary, so with us. Jesus is not the detached spectator to our sorrow, he is one with us in our need, he feels our pain, lives our experience.
But also we read in v 33 we read that Jesus was ‘greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved’. The inference some commentators point out is that Jesus was angry. Why? Was it that both Martha and Mary had said ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (v21 & 32), as though they were telling Jesus off? Or was it Jesus’ response to Martha and Mary telling themselves off for not calling Jesus earlier ‘if you had been here’. A bit like those personal rebukes that we torment ourselves with, ‘if only I had done this’, or ‘if only I had not done that’, things might have been different. ‘If only’ are two words that lead us into the cul-de-sac of despair.
But I suggest, Jesus was not angry about what Martha and Mary had said. It was seeing Martha and Mary and friends sad that had made Jesus angry, because it was the evil of death that had caused their sadness. It was death, and the devil who had the power of death, that Jesus had come into the world to destroy. This was the enemy that Jesus hated, this is what he had been sent into the world by his Father to do something about. This is what made Jesus angry.
When the sisters said ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’, they were words of their own faith, they were saying ‘if Jesus had been here, he would have saved Lazarus from death, I know he would have done’. They knew that, because they looked for a general resurrection on ‘I know he will rise again on the last day’ v24. But perhaps that was not a lot of comfort, they wanted their brother now, not at the last day.
Here they were, going through personal pain and darkness, but through their faith, they knew that even though they were walking through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus was there with them, and so the future could be faced with hope.
Why? How? Because Jesus said ‘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’ v25. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The Christian faith is not ‘pie in the sky when I die’, we live in the constant presence of our crucified, risen and ascended Lord. Faith believes in the present reality of Jesus Christ as life changing Lord. Jesus still transforms lives and situations today.
But note how Martha and Mary have moved from hopelessness to hope, a sure and certain hope, because Jesus met them at the point of their need. Like Martha and Mary, with Jesus we can be true to ourselves because he understands our needs and we can trust him because he is the resurrection and the life. The resurrection says ‘Jesus is alive and death is defeated’. Jesus is our living hope.