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God of comfort and consolation,
who is always present for us, by our side,
as we grieve, as we struggle, as we suffer;
you comforted Mary and Martha,
and breathed new life into old bones,
you answer the question,
“can these bones live,” with a resounding, “yes.”
Be the Resurrection and the Life for us,
pour out your spirit upon us,
with the faith that can bring life from the grave,
so we may be servants of life.
Forgive us for our faithlessness,
when we ignore your command to love one another,
when we avoid justice, despise kindness, and indulge in vain pride,
then we are faithless to your love.
Make us new, so that we may help to make the world new,
in the image of your love.
We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
The resurrection, at the time, was the belief that God would come down and bring everybody who had died back to life. This is what Martha refers to when she says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” She’s holding onto the same hope we often do: it will get better, eventually. We’ll meet again. One day.
It must seem so hollow, especially as Jesus stands right there. “Where the hell were you?” She asks. “Why didn’t you stop this?”
I love this story because it is such a human story. Martha and Mary ask the same questions we ask, have the same grief we have, hold onto the same vain hopes we do. When Jesus waits a few days and it costs Lazarus his life, they get angry; just as we get angry at God for all the unfair things that happen to us.
Martha’s accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” is the same one we have; “How could you let this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?”
These are good questions; these are questions people have been struggling with for ages. These are questions that have brought some people to not believe in God anymore because they feel there’s no good answer for them.
But what I also like about this story is that it shows us another side of God, one that is unexpected. Often, when I’ve heard this story preached on, the preacher will say that it highlights the human side of Jesus. He weeps, he makes a big mistake.
But to me, this highlights something more important. When we hope for things in the future, that things will get better, that everything will turn out alright in the end; that’s a human hope. It’s trying to control things that we don’t have any control over. The belief in the resurrection of the dead at the end of days—a belief that is, by the way, still part of core Christian doctrine—helps us make sense of why we seem to die so pointlessly.
But Jesus actually pushes that hope aside. He doesn’t confirm Martha’s hope; he doesn’t say, “Yes, it’ll be okay in the end.” He says, “Martha, the resurrection is right in front of you. It isn’t coming on some distant day; it’s right now.”
God is not coming; God is with us. God weeps with us. God is sick with us. God dies with us. And to me, that’s far more important than the idea that things will get better eventually.
We sit around waiting for something that is in front of us. But hope and faith are not things we think; they are not our beliefs about the future or the existence of God. Hope is something we do, that we find right around us, something we make. It is a thing for the present, not the future. Faith is not thinking in your head that God exists and that’s all you need to do; faith is living faithfully. I can say that I believe in God, and I can mean it, but if nothing about that belief changes how I act, then is that really faith, if I’m not following God’s commands to love my neighbour as myself, to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly? Likewise, I can say I love my neighbour and I can think it, but if I ignore my neighbour’s needs and do not act lovingly toward my neighbour, if nothing I do shows my love to them, do I really love them?
And so, for hope; we can dream about the future, about how it will be better tomorrow, but that is just a thought in our heads. Hope is something we do. If I think the world is lacking in love and that peace and justice seems hopeless, hope is not thinking that all human beings will suddenly start loving each other; hope is when I start loving. Hope is when I start trying to make things better. Hope is something for the present. Resurrection, new life, is here in front of us.
“I am the resurrection,” Jesus says. “It is not coming at some time in the future; it is right in front of you.” We can read this story as a standard miracle story: oh, look how powerful and godly Jesus is; he can bring people back from the dead. But I prefer to read it as a story of hope; the hope that God is always with us, not waiting for us and not coming, but with us right now. Not a hope for an afterlife but a hope for a life worth living right now. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Those who believe in me will never die.” Obviously we die; but with hope and faith and love for the present, and made real, the life we already have is everlasting.