Sometimes we are Lazarus. In the tomb of life, living but barely, wrapped up with pain, and suffering, between life and death, maybe just because we are having a bad day, maybe we stepped in dog poop, then spilled coffee on our lap, then had an outburst at someone because we were at our wits end. Maybe our soul is steeped in the anxiety of the times, maybe the veil has been lifted from our eyes and we see the horrors of inequality. Or maybe we just received a scary health diagnosis and we are looking at our body and at God with dismay. Maybe we are in trappings of our own making. Or maybe we are depressed, can’t get out of the doldrums of winter. Sometimes we are Lazarus.
Sometimes we are Jesus, the one who comes to Lazarus and weeps. Who hold’s Lazarus’s pain with him. Jesus wept. The shortest sentence in the Bible. Jesus cries along with Lazarus’ suffering, Lazarus who is beloved to Jesus.
Up until this moment in the Gospel of John, Jesus has emphasized light and life. I am the life, I am the light of the world, follow me, come with me, walk in my path. He has gained disciples and followers, such as Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Jesus has come to love these people. This text is the central story in the Gospel of John, it is the turning point, that shows the heart of the Gospel, the heart of Jesus, and foreshadows Jesus’ own death and love offering of his life. Up until this chapter, The Gospel of John has used the words light and life 82 times, and after this chapter, he only uses the words light and life 6 times. After this chapter though, Jesus uses the word love 31 times, compared to only 6 times up until now. This tells us something about his focus, about how his ministry and his path changed.
While we are caught between life and death, our purpose here on this earth is to love one another. To love God with all our strength and heart and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I admit, I much prefer to be Jesus than to be Lazarus. I want to be the one who comes to your side, who cries with you, who helps you carry your pain. When we have an opportunity to help someone and walk with someone, we feel good, we feel like we are living our purpose. It feels vulnerable to be Lazarus, because that is when we need Jesus the most. We know we are supposed to be Jesus to one another. But sometimes I think we need more practice being Lazarus.
A friend of mine caught a lump in her throat about a month ago, went to the doctor, quickly got diagnosed with tonsil cancer, and had surgery to remove the lump a week later. She invited me to sit with her the day she got back from the hospital, and I was in awe of her vulnerability- she couldn’t eat without tears, the visiting nurse came and had to dress her wound, I took notes for her because she was on so many drugs she wouldn’t remember. She allowed me to be Jesus with her, and I was so rewarded by this. As I was leaving and more people were coming- she had a whole schedule of visitors- she told me, “I have a feeling that people come to my aid not just to help me, but because they want to bond with me, and because they are really getting something out of this too.”
Wow. It is so hard to be that person, that needs help, asks for it, and receives it. I resist being Lazarus at all costs- and that is part of my sin of needing to have it together all times. Anyone else with me? How do we actually allow people to show up for us?
When Jesus shows up for Lazarus, Jesus doesn’t say: all things happen for a reason. Jesus doesn’t say, if you would only look at it this ways, if you would only think positive, you wouldn’t feel so sad. Jesus doesn’t say: God never gives us more than we can handle. Jesus recognizes that Lazarus is dead and goes to Lazarus, to Mary and Martha and the others who love him, and Jesus weeps. He feels with Lazarus. Jesus doesn’t search for the perfect words, he shows up, and he loves. How do we actually allow people to show up for us?
That is where Mary and Martha come in. “Go get Jesus!” They say. Go get the person who is most equip to care for this person. Mary and Martha make the connection. They are beloved too, Jesus weeps with them too. But they are the ones who say, this connection needs to be made. Today I want to be Mary and Martha for you.
Not just today, but if you have something you are struggling with, I want to connect you with someone here besides me who can walk with you and understand your struggle. When I make that connection for you, when I say to you, hey, will you visit this person in the hospital? I am asking you to be Jesus.
Prayer and discernment are topics we have spent time with this season, and there is a type of prayer I want to share with you today as a tool for these moments, when words won’t work, when a moment is so tender, that all you can do is lift that reality up to God. This is praying from the heart, in the moment, spontaneously.
In a moment I am going to ask you to pair up with someone. I know this is a risk in worship- but I also know you are up for it. You don’t have to pour your heart out to someone, just share a high and a low in your life right now. If you feel resistance to this, good, stay with it, move past your inner eye roll, because connecting with a real human person in the presence of God may be the best thing you do today. Of course you always have an out, you don’t have to do this, everyone do this right now- just put your hand over your heart and bow your head, to signify you are praying alone if you’d prefer that. Now for those who would like to pair up, take your hand off your chest and find someone you don’t know very well.
Pair up with someone you don’t know very well. If you are mobile, go to someone who isn’t. We are going to switch being Lazarus and Jesus. Decide who is Lazarus and who is Jesus. Lazarus, raise your hand. Share with Jesus a high and low in your life right now, what do you want prayers for? Jesus, you are going to reflect back what this person said in prayer. Not trying to fix it, just lifting it up to God. Don’t worry about speaking fancy, just bring in God, the Spirit, the Universe, whatever language you want, as a third witness.
Jesus only heals Lazarus, rises Lazarus by going low with him first. By going to the tomb with him and crying with his family. Let’s speak to the Lazarus within us with the voice of Jesus. So much holds us back from life and from love. So much fear and suffering. “Come out! Come out Lazarus!” Release yourself from the bondages of fear, whatever is holding you back from love. Say to your neighbor “Come out!” Whatever is holding you back from loving one another, maybe we are attached to our pain, maybe it helps us remember someone we have lost- well that someone is with you right here in this moment, not in your pain. Tell yourself, “Come out!” Maybe you are caught in shame, caught in feeling bad about yourself, but that holds you back from allowing new life to come to you, say to yourself, say to your neighbor “Come out!” Come out! There is more life waiting for you, there is new life waiting for you, there is a world that is waiting for new life and love to break free. Come out! Let us love freely, for it is our purpose. Let us prepare our lives for the resurrection of Jesus, for the promise that life, light, love, always have the final word. Give yourselves a round of applause. Actually clap for God- anytime we clap in church, for the music, for a prayer, we are clapping for God. Amen