Sermon for Lent, March 29, 2020, posted in the newsletter for Jubilee Baptist Church because COVID-19
11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,
after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”
After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”
Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
If You Had Been Here
Reading about Lazarus in a time of self-isolation, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders takes on a new meaning. I’m sure by now everyone is so tired of hearing about COVID-19 and also so anxious to hear about it because it seems to be changing almost hourly.
I am also reading this through my experience as a queer, disabled, non binary human.
How curious is it that Jesus, upon hearing that his friend Lazarus was sick, said “this sickness is not unto death…” even though Lazarus literally died. There’s also something comforting in Jesus referring to Lazarus’s death as sleep. Lazarus had found a way to rest after suffering with the sickness he had.
Many a theologian and pastor has speculated about how Jesus waited four days to go see his sick friend. Some would say Jesus didn’t actually care, or that he only cared so that he could raise him from the dead to make himself look good.
During a time when people are having to quarantine themselves for 14 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I have to wonder though…
Perhaps, this was Jesus’ way of showing how much he did care. By giving Lazarus time and space.
Or…perhaps it is ok to give ourselves permission to be frustrated with how Jesus behaves. I’m with Martha and Mary on this one. Jesus could have done something and didn’t.
I don’t know if y’all know this about me, but I’m an introvert. I’m an introvert and I’m also a hugger. We all need people. Sometimes though, what people need from us and the best way we can care for one another is to separate ourselves in order to keep each other safe. A lot of us know of people who are sick right now. It’s overwhelming and we can’t be with the people we love.
By the time Jesus DID go to see Lazarus, he wasn’t really there for Lazarus, he was there for Mary and Martha and held space for them to grieve while grieving the loss of his friend. Perhaps, you’re reading this passage and you’re feeling that Mary and Martha are right.
Why wouldn’t Jesus do all he could to save his friend? Aren’t we doing that right now by self-isolating ourselves? Why wouldn’t Jesus–who can HEAL PEOPLE, save his friend?
The fact that I’m writing this sermon to be read instead of for y’all to listen to is one of those ways of keeping each other safe. It’s hard to write or focus in the middle of a pandemic.
People are having a hard time finding groceries they need like bread, toilet paper, meds, fruits and veggies. I am so tired and wonder if I’ve already been sick and didn’t realize it. The virus has been here and now we can’t see it. Most of us don’t have resources to test for it. Several people don’t even have symptoms. But it just keeps spreading.
If I focus on how bad it is, it gets too overwhelming. So, I’ve been trying to distract myself. It’s really hard to rest and with Amy here, I don’t feel like I can introvert as much. It does feel less lonely and that’s nice. I’ve been trying to read but the only things I’ve been able to focus on are children’s books. They’re whimsical even if they sometimes get too serious. I can’t focus on anything too serious. The world is already serious enough.
Being genderqueer during a pandemic sure is one heck of a ride. Being queer during a pandemic, really. I keep thinking about all the people who had HIV/AIDS and the government did nothing. Because as long as it only affected gay people, it was fine. But as soon as it started affecting straight people, then it was a problem.
What is it like to be dying, to meet Death head on but to come back from it? As a queer person, I know a little something about that. I thought when I came out a few years ago, it might kill me. But in the end, it was what brought me life even when my family and faith community at the time saw me as “sick.”
There are some things worse than dying, I think. One of them might be never getting to live as yourself and being bound to others’ views of you. In the words of Rev. Caleb Tabor, “We know what it is to be dead…but better yet, we know what it is to be born again. We know what it is to rise up from death.”
At the end of the day, Jesus showed up for his friends, and reminds us that death doesn’t have to be the end. Death doesn’t get the final say and we can walk with one another through death dealing times. Let us be the friends who show up when someone is sick and help where we can.And sometimes the way we show up is by staying home and flattening the curve.
May we walk through death with one another, may we call to each other to “come out” and rise up from death into life.
P.S. I have a patreon now!