But I wonder, if we listen close, if we don’t hear words, we’ll hear weeping. Weeping for the loved one lost? Weeping for GOD’s own? Weeping for our pain and suffering and confusion? Weeping because we haven’t listened.
Mary, Martha, Lazarus and the Light of the World
All Saints’ Day B | John 11:32-44
You remember Martha and Mary, don’t you? These are the famous sisters from Luke’s gospel who serve for many people as the quintessential siblings. In that story, Martha and Mary live together and invite Jesus into their home and both of them play hosts. One by going into the kitchen to make food and the other to sit with their guests.
Of course, that’s not how we remember it, is it? We think of Martha slaving away in the kitchen and then getting scolded by Jesus for wanting her sister to help her. Nevertheless, these two have served for centuries as the epitome of contrast: the doers and the worshippers.
That story is in Luke. The evangelist who wrote this morning’s gospel story has a different story to tell with these same sisters.
Chapter 11 begins with a description of where Jesus and the disciples are: they have come to Bethany. Bethany is a city right outside of Jerusalem, and it is this city they come to several times in the next week, Jesus’s last. They come to the home of those sisters: Mary and Martha. And it says in verse 2:
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair
This anointing will happen in the next chapter, but the author sees fit to preview it now, so that you get a sense of who these two are. Mary is the one who anoints Jesus’s feet and wipes them with her hair and Martha is that woman’s sister.
They tell Jesus that their brother, Lazarus is sick, they beg Jesus to heal him but Jesus seems to callously walk away. While he’s gone, the man dies and it is four days later when Jesus shows back up. Unconscionable, right? They think so.
So Martha goes and tells Jesus that he could’ve saved Lazarus. Then Mary, too, goes to Jesus and tells him that he could’ve saved Lazarus.
This seems so unfair doesn’t it? Why didn’t Jesus save him when he had the chance?
We always do that with Jesus, don’t we? When we get to a part in the story – a part in our story we don’t understand. Why weren’t you here? Why didn’t you protect us? Why did you let this happen to me? To him or her? To all those people?
If you are so powerful, if we are supposed to believe that you really are the Son of GOD, then where is that power? If you are so full of love, where is your love for Lazarus? Crying after the fact doesn’t do anything!
We question Jesus, GOD, whatever it is we’re directing our attention to, and we say why? In our tragedies, in our deaths, in our sicknesses and our preventable moments, we ask and we howl and we wonder and we throw all of that at the Divine One and we say “Well? What’re you going to say for yourself?”
And often we hear silence.
But I wonder, if we listen close, if we don’t hear words, we’ll hear weeping. Weeping for the loved one lost? Weeping for GOD’s own? Weeping for our pain and suffering and confusion? Weeping because we haven’t listened. Listened to Jesus’s response to the Adversary when he was tempted in the desert: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Weeping in our unbelief.
The Light in the Darkness
While they’re away, the disciples have this strange conversation with Jesus. They ask him why he would want to go back to where he is hated, where the people want him dead. And Jesus says
“Are there not 12 hours of daylight?”
And the smart aleck disciples say, not this time of year! But that isn’t his point. His point is about the light and the dark, the day and the night, and we know from the first chapter of John that Jesus is the light of the world. That he is the light shining in the darkness and darkness does not overcome it.
Jesus tells them this is a story about the light, not the darkness. This is why he said his friend Lazarus isn’t dead, he’s sleeping. Why he walks into a place of hatred and true darkness: because that’s where the light goes. Where it needs to go. Where it will go.
So here, to the disciples, to Martha, to Mary, comes the light. To all who witness this moment, here is the light. To us, in our reading, in our sharing, in our telling, is the light.
And the light comes to the tomb, to the darkness and when he comes, they pull away the stone (like another stone that will be rolled away), shining the light into the tomb and he shouts to Lazarus to come out “Lazarus, come out!”
And what does the light say to the people
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
The Darkness didn’t overcome it
Jesus comes as the light of the world, to shine in the darkest reaches and at the darkest hour. A light that isn’t conquered by the darkness, even at its darkest hour. But the light doesn’t conquer the darkness either. Not permanently. Not completely.
Then it couldn’t be light. Light only works in the dark. A star shining through the cosmos and the darkness of space, traveling so unbelievably fast that thousands and thousands of miles are covered imperceptibly, as if time doesn’t exist, as if the light was always there.
And the light tells them to unbind the woken Lazarus (he was just sleeping, not dead, right?) for it is morning.
Why is he bound? Why have we locked him away, kept him in the dark, the tomb: a prison. And Jesus has come to bring him out (not back), to wake him from sleep (not death), to free him from the prison of our confusion, our lack of faith, our fleeting commitment to love and hope and the irreconcilable expectation of newlife, new hope, new freedom in the light that is never overcome.
And we give thanks for the lamps, those unbound and freed to light our darkest places, maybe like a string of Christmas lights, or an oil lamp, or candles on the table who burn and burn and never go out.
We unbind them as we unbind our friends and our loved ones who we confuse for dead to us: those whom we’ve broken relationship with, those whom we’ve disowned, those we’ve hurt.
We unbind them as we unbind our parents to age before our eyes and become a shadow of their former glory. And we unbind them as we unbind our children as they learn the way they’re going to learn, not the way we demand they do. And we unbind them as we unbind our cousins and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and grandparents for their different lives and loves and hopes from our own: their different practices and different expectations.
We unbind them as we unbind the strangers, those saints we’ve never met, but whose lives are known in the very depths of our hearts.
Because the light wakes them, us, and changes us. And we rise, become new. And we can’t be bound, really. Won’t be bound. In us is the light of the world and darkness will never overcome it.