Jesus approached the village of Bethany and the grief of family and friends moved him to tears. Lazarus emerged from the grave and was transformed. At a time of physical distancing, the world is more connected through shared common experience than at any other time in human history. Will we be transformed when the time of despair and separation ends?
Reflection on John 11:1-45 / Lent 5A / by the Rev. Tracey Kelly / shared with the congregation of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Great Falls, VA via Zoom conferencing platform / March 29, 2020
New life will emerge
Good morning. First, of all let me say how good it is to see you this morning. To see your faces and hear your voices and reconnect. We have some new faces and voices among us this morning, and it is good to have you with us.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Advent. We are deep within the liturgical season of Lent. It’s safe to say that none of us expected that we would be journeying through the season of Lent quite like this. Two of our readings this morning struck me as particularly pertinent – the reading from the prophet Ezekiel, and the reading from the Gospel of John.
This morning’s reading from Ezekiel is known as the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones.
God visits Ezekiel in a dream and shows him a vision. And through Ezekiel, God gives a message of hope to a hopeless people. The people of Israel are in living in exile. Nothing in their life seems familiar or normal. They are despairing. They are disconnected from each other and from God.
Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones rising to life again with the breath of God is a message. A message that God has not forgotten them. God will restore them.
Ezekiel’s vision is a powerful promise that new life will emerge when the time of despair and separation ends.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is known as the story of the Raising of Lazarus.
Three siblings —Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha — live in Bethany. Jesus receives word that Lazarus is ill. Very ill. This news is personal for Jesus. He has a close connection with this family. The gospel says quite simply that he loves them. Jesus approaches the village of Bethany to find family and friends already mourning. He was deeply moved by their tears.
And then the gospel of John tells us something remarkable: Jesus began to weep.
Jesus follows them to the tomb. The stone is moved away. With a loud voice Jesus cries out “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus emerges, still bound in strips of cloth.
Jesus weeps, and Lazarus emerges.
Right now, we are living in the grip of grief, doubt, uncertainty, loss, anger, fear, despair. We are living in a time of lament, a time of sadness that life right now is not how we were living just a few weeks ago.
But God is not distant. God is in this with us. We know this, because Jesus wept.
Jesus, in this moment of intense sadness, joins into the human experience of grief and loss.
Belief in Jesus does not remove death and suffering from the human experience. Jesus himself is walking towards his own suffering and death as this gospel continues. Death and suffering remain part of our human existence, but what changed with the gospels is that God became a part of this experience, and that death is no longer the end of our story.
Jesus wept, and Lazarus emerged from the tomb.
I’ve wondered about Lazarus. What happened to him after he emerged from the tomb? We aren’t told much. We know that he is back home six days before the Passover when Jesus pays a visit and Lazarus shares a meal (12:2). We know that Lazarus’ unexpected return to life has drawn the attention of the chief priests who consider putting Lazarus to death as well. (12:9-11)
But that’s it. And I wonder. Was Lazarus transformed by the event? Surely, life was different for him, somehow. What about his family, his friends, his community – did things return to normal, or did something shift in how they lived in the world? Did Lazarus still fear death?
Jesus wept, Lazarus emerged, and the world was then different.
Something has shifted for us. This is not the first time a pandemic has spread across the globe. This is not the first time that a catastrophe has caused fear and suffering on a large scale.
But, for the first time, technology has allowed us to peer into each other’s experience, and we can empathize with each in a powerful way. It’s odd. At a time of physical distancing, the world is more connected through shared common experience than at any other time in human history.
Right now, millions of people across this country, billions of people all over the globe, have retreated into their homes. Right now, we share the same grief, the same loss and fear. Right now, we share the same moments of joy and hope.
This week, I’ve been paying attention to a different type of viral phenomena – the viral videos sweeping across the globe into our homes. Inspiring videos of Italians singing to each other from their balconies, or two Mayo Clinic doctors spreading hope with their rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Or a dog named Pluto from Canada who is giving hilarious advice and encouragement to the two-leggeds.
There is life on the other side of this pandemic. And there is joy, and gratitude, and hope even in the thick of it.
Every day I read about acts of kindness and caring. Every day I hear stories of people deeply connecting with each other.
The whole world seems transformed in this moment – I wonder how will we emerge? Will our transformation continue? Will we be kinder and gentler with each other? Will we continue to recognize our common humanity?
A hope and a prayer
We won’t come out of this health crisis unscathed. There will be more heartache, and grief. God is with us in the midst of this. We are not alone. See how he weeps? He must have loved Lazarus. He weeps because he loves all of us.
God is in this with us. New life will emerge when the time of despair and separation has come to an end. And on this particular Sunday, when our Old Testament reading reminds us that God remembers his people, and when our gospel reading tells us that Jesus wept and Lazarus emerged from the grave, it is my hope and prayer that every one of us will find a way to push fear and despair far away, and experience the closeness of God’s presence.
© 2020 Tracey Kelly. All rights reserved.