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Lent 5A          March 26, 2023             John 11:1-45


Jesus knows that his dear friend, Lazarus, is dead. He even tells his disciples this brutal truth. Only then does he decide to go to Bethany on the fourth day. The fourth day, is the day that is beyond all hope. Often in the scriptures the third day is the day that God acts … that God delivers … that God saves. But this is the fourth day … the hopeless day …. when Jesus arrives.


And the first thing Martha says when he gets there is this: “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.” And I hear in her words the familiar tendency among those who grieve an expression of regrets carried over from the past. It is the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” we keep retracing in our minds of things we have done or left undone and shroud us in guilt. The harsh words we shoulda kept to ourselves. The soft words we coulda said. The things we woulda done had we known that the hour was short.


It strikes me that expressing such regrets is really a sign of love. Had not we cared so much … had not a person meant so much to us … we could dismiss those regrets and put them aside. And yet we hold on to them because the loved one we miss was still with us back then. Maybe we need to affirm these regrets not in a condemning way, but in a way of accepting the fact that we live in the forward march of time and death puts up a barrier that blocks us from going back and un-doing what we’ve done.


Jesus’ response to Marth is: “Your brother will rise again.” And it seems to me that she hears this as a confessional formula. It’s like she immediately goes back into her confirmation class mode and she responds by giving the perfect text-book answer: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on last day.” I’ll bet she got a gold star on a chart once for getting that one right.


But what I hear in her response is that Martha is willing to accept the resurrection as some abstract thing that happens so far in the future that it has nothing to do with her immediate grief. Maybe I’m wrong about Martha, but I know that when I think about resurrection that is how I think about it too. Yeah, sure, I believe in the resurrection of the dead. But so what? It’s out of my hands and I’ll be dead when it happens … or if it happens. So, really, so what? What does it have to do with the fact that for Marth her brother she was so close to and loved so very much is now hopelessly dead?


The thing is that Jesus isn’t talking about an abstract doctrine of an abstract future that has no bearing on the present. At this moment, I imagine this scene as looking something like this. Martha looks behind with regret … “If only I shoulda, coulda, woulda.” And at the same time, Martha also looks forward with some measure of hope … “Yeah, I know he will rise again on the last day.” But Jesus cups her face in his hands and looks deep into her eyes and lovingly says, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life.” I am … here and now. I am … not was, now will be, I am. And to prove his point he goes to that hopeless grave and on that hopeless day and in that hopeless place he brings resurrection and life to his hopelessly dead friend, Lazarus.

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