Title: All the Feels.
Scripture: Romans 8:6-11; John 11: 1-7, 17-45
***sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here***
I started my first church job in 2003. With a biology major and a handful of years of experience in veterinary medicine under my belt, I was completely unprepared for the reality of my first year of ministry. In just that first year, I had a student try to end their life, another lose a parent, and one of my small group leaders lost her husband of only 8 months to an unknown heart condition. I knew one thing for certain – I was in over my head.
And in the years since, during many moments of grief and loss, around hospital bedsides, family tables, living rooms, and Sunday morning coffee hours, I have learned a lot about what not to say. (and trust me, this is mostly because I’ve said some version of them all at some point)
Here are just a few:
I know how you feel.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (I’m looking at you Kelly Clarkson)
Everything happens for a reason.
God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
It could be worse.
It’s God’s plan.
Any phrase starting with the words “just” or “at least” … you might remember a video that made the rounds awhile ago with Dr Brene Brown talking about empathy and how it never begins with the words “at least”
A favorite author and artist of mine, Emily McDowell writes these incredible greeting cards she calls empathy cards – and they are good reminders of things not to say.
So what are we supposed to say in these moments?
What’s the right response?
In today’s text – we have one more story of Jesus showing those around him just who he is. And in it, we get a window into what it means to be around grief and loss and all the feelings that go along with it. And there are a lot of feelings in this one.
As miraculous as this moment is, we have all been here. We have all experienced the feelings that are expressed in this story.
When Jesus encounters Martha, the first thing she says is “if you had been here.”
And he gets the same response when he goes and finds Mary.
If you had just been here.
I mean yeah.
Who hasn’t had that moment with Jesus?
Who hasn’t turned your eyes to God and said those same words.
If you had only been here Jesus, this wouldn’t have happened.
He’d be alive.
I’d be ok.
She’d be healthy.
If you had only been here.
In the uplift devotional I write weekly, this section of John’s Gospel is the one I have reflected on the most.
Because Mary and Martha are all of us in the midst of grief.
We have all felt what they feel.
They come each in turn and express their grief.
And what does Jesus say?
He doesn’t say “He’s in a better place”
He doesn’t say “Everything happens for a reason”
He doesn’t feel bad for them he just feels just bad.
And despite the fact that he definitely knows what he’s going to do, that he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he still cries.
He doesn’t try to move them along in their grief.
Doesn’t tell them that they should believe better or more or differently.
Doesn’t even get mad at them for doubting that he could do something miraculous here.
He just cries right along with them.
This is Jesus at his most human.
He recognizes that his friend, the one whom he loves, is, in fact, dead.
And he experiences the full scope of what it means to lose someone you love.
Who among us hasn’t felt this exact moment?
Where your grief overtakes you.
Where you let it out.
Where you can’t be strong and you just can’t hold it together one minute more.
And then he gets to work.
Right there. In the middle of all of those feelings.
He tells them to take him to the tomb, has them roll away the stone, and calls out to Lazarus, “come out!”
And then, in verse 44 it says “the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”
The dead man came out.
I think it’s the funniest phrase in this whole text.
Because for Lazarus to get up and walk out of there, he was obviously not dead, but they had no other way to describe him.
I suppose they could have called him the formerly dead man as they did in last week’s text to the man who was formerly born blind.
But this guy had really been dead.
4 days dead.
In Jewish tradition they believe the soul doesn’t leave the body until after three days, so the fact that it’s four days means that he is really dead. There is no hope of revival.
Of new life.
Again, who of us haven’t been here?
How many times have we been without hope?
Have we given up?
Have we thought someone or something was beyond reach?
We’ve all been here.
Gives a new meaning to the phrase dead man walking doesn’t it?
Lazarus, who was dead, comes back to life.
And so Jesus again reveals his power as the Son of God.
There is nothing so dead that God can’t bring it back to life.
So Lazarus is alive.
We next hear from him in John’s Gospel, sitting at the table with Jesus, eating a meal together and reclining on him. Leaning on him.
And it’s not like they became friends after this moment, no – they have a close relationship before this moment, which is likely why the death of his friend is so difficult for Jesus when he comes faces to face with the fact that Lazarus has died.
So then their friendship continues.
He will watch his friend die, and rise.
And eventually, Lazarus will die again too.
But now he knows.
This is not the end.
There is nothing, not even death, that can’t be overcome by the love of God we see in Jesus.
Jesus tells Mary that he is the Resurrection and the life.
I love this part of this story.
It’s the verse I find myself coming back to over and over again when I read it.
Earlier manuscripts used to leave “and the life” off of this phrase because they thought it was a mistake.
But Jesus isn’t being redundant.
He is BOTH Resurrection AND life.
The AND is important.
It’s here AND now.
It’s new life now, today, AND life after death.
Jesus brings us BOTH.
We have heard this kind of resurrection preached over and over again these past few weeks, as Jesus finds a woman, a Samaritan woman who had been rejected by her own community and brings her into new life, as Jesus finds a blind man and gives him new vision to see the Son of God, and we hear it today as Lazarus hears his name called by the God who loves him and brings him back from the dead into life.
Resurrection AND life.
And it’s not just hearing about it either… we’ve seen this kind of resurrection time and time again here as well.
We’ve seen it in the moments of hope when all hope had been lost.
We see it as we cry together during and support each other in our hardest moments.
We’ve seen it week after week this Lent as people in our community of faith have shared their wilderness moments and how God somehow keeps finding them there.
We’re going to experience it again this morning as we come forward, hold out our hands and hear that this new life is FOR YOU.
Given. A gift.
Resurrection AND life.