So the Narrative Lectionary for Lent takes an in-depth look at what the synoptic gospels tend to smush into Holy Week. We start with Lazarus being raised, move to the footwashing, see Peter’s denial, watch Jesus and Pilate meet, then see Jesus condemned and on the cross. Add all of that to the complexities of the Gospel of John (not my favorite!), and it looks to be a difficult Lenten season for preaching.
In my setting, our Lenten theme is “Who Do You Say That I Am? finding our identity in Christ” and we’ll be looking at these texts and asking, “Who am I in this narrative?”
This Sunday’s text gives us lots of options. There’s the disciples, who don’t think it’s important enough to show up to the death of Lazarus–is the death of Lazarus worth risking the ire of the Jews?* The disciples were full of sorrow, which made them distrust Jesus.
There’s Martha, going out to meet Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She believes in Jesus’ power to heal the sick. And she even believes that he may be able to do something yet, but has no vision of a future with her brother. She expects that Jesus will make Lazarus safe in the afterlife, but not bring him back.
And there’s Mary. Oh, poor Mary. She’s so sad. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She too believes in the power of Jesus. Notice something about Mary–she is so sad that she stirs Jesus’ compassion, “He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”
They both thought that Jesus could keep their brother from dying, but neither actually thought Jesus could bring her back to life. Mary and Martha both believe that Jesus has power in the present, but they don’t believe he can fix the past.
But isn’t that exactly what he does? He goes to the tomb and cries out, “Lazarus, come out!”
So let me ask you… Which of these characters are like you? Are you afraid, like the disicples? Do you avoid difficult situations (even situations where God might be made manifest?) because you’re afraid? Or are you like Martha and Mary? So grief stricken, you cannot see the possibilities of the future? So lost in lost moments that you cannot see the healing, the wholeness, that’s just around the corner? Or are you like Jesus? Sad, and yet able to look to the future. Scared, and yet seeing that things can be different. And believing that you can make change?
We can be stilled so easily by fear or grief. And yet… God is waiting to be made manifest in us and in the world.
What will you do this Sunday? Here are some other ideas:
- Mary and Martha both greet Jesus with the same words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Have you asked where God was when tragedy struck?
- Imagine what it must be like to be Lazarus, coming out of the tomb. Was it like Buffy the Vampire Slayer being pulled out of her happy place? She says, “Wherever I was, I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time didn’t mean anything, nothing had form, but I was still me, you know? And I was warm and I was loved and I was finished. Complete. I don’t understand about theology or dimensions, or any of it really. But I think I was in heaven.” You can see the clip here.
- Think about Jesus and time. Elizabeth Johnson says, “Jesus pulls the hope of the future resurrection into the present, promising abundant, eternal life that begins here and now.” But he also, in some way, redeems the past, maybe even indicating that the resurrection begins way back then.
- And, zombies. Discuss.
Where will you go? Leave us a message and tell where the Beloved Disciple will take you this Sunday. And blessings on your very busy week!
*You’re not imagining that this might be anti-Jewish. For a great discussion on this, see Befriending the Beloved Disciple by Adele Reinhartz. She points out that John was written as the young Christian community was exiled in Asia Minor and being excluded from the synagogues, so the anti-Jewish sentiment is rampant. She makes the argument that we must make peace with John, but in dialogue, not buying into his anti-Judaism, and yet still appreciating his work.)
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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