John 11 The Story of the Raising of Lazarus
“God never forces us toward life or love by any threats whatsoever. Yes, God seduces us, but compulsion? Never. Whoever this God is, he or she is utterly free. Love cannot happen any other way. Love flourishes inside freedom and then increases that freedom even more.” [i] I read these words in a devotion by Richard Rohr this past week and I was struck by his underlaying premise. A premise which I believe can be broken down into a couple of simple but poignant statements. First, “God is God, and we’re not God” and the second statement is this, “God is Love and so are we.”
You see, there are many things in this world that are beyond our control. We cannot control the weather or natural disasters or even this on-going pandemic, but, we can control how we respond to adversity. We have the ability to choose to be safe, to be concerned about the health and wellbeing of our neighbor, and we can choose to be generous even in face of this on-going crisis.
Now, this is not to say that God caused this pandemic as some sort of punishment for wrongdoing or as an incentive to change. I don’t think God works that way. Perhaps it’s more like Richard Roar said, “God never bullies us to be loving” but rather that “love is both who we are and who we are still becoming.” It’s like the sunflower seed that becomes its own flower. Like the acorn that becomes the mighty oak. Like the child that grows into an adult. Within each of us, there is what Aristotle call “potentiality.” The potential to be all that we were created to be. And a huge part of reaching that potential, for us as people of faith, is to display the love that God has called us to share.
And here’s the really cool part. It’s a love that reveals itself in the final and full message of the Risen Christ. It’s a love that’s without borders and is beyond time, and yet, it literally fills the space between every atom and finds its voice in the breath of humanity. God literally “breathes” love into each of us and all of creation with the life-breath of the Sacred.
Now, at this point my might be saying, “That’s great philosophy, but how this going to help us in the real world, in a time of real trouble, during a very real pandemic?” Great question, glad you asked.
The story of Lazarus, that we have before us today, is much more than simply a tale of resurrection and it’s more than just a story about the deep, loving friendship between Jesus and Lazarus. Today’s Scripture lesson touches upon the human experience of loss, it brings to light the very nature of grief, and finally, this is a story about restoration. This narrative is also about an audacious hope, the profession of faith, and a familiar, powerful response to the question, “Where have you laid him?” “Come and see.”[ii]
Come and see. I read a powerful example of this by an author identified only as A. Byrne. She shared these words with us today, “[In] mid-February my husband passed away. Ten days later, his sister passed. Grieving has been chipping away for several years as I cared for and watched them suffer. I did not anticipate that grief would arrive with a new face via the coronavirus. For now, I take comfort in the words of Henri Nouwen: “Hope frees us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us.” I think what God is asking of me is to trust and take one day at a time. Not always easy, but there it is.”[iii]
You know, there may be any number of things clouding our vision in these troubling days. Perhaps grief or loss, anxiety or financial troubles, perhaps hatred, or resentment, or the isolation caused by this pandemic have put us in our own tomb of despair. But this is where Scripture can comfort us. Along time ago, in a far-off land, Jesus stood outside that tomb and called out, “Lazarus, come out!” And, my friends, God is still speaking to us today, calling us out from our tombs of despair, denial, and death, calling us to new life, right here, right now!
I’m going to leave you now with the words of a longtime friend and colleague who now serves the United Church of Christ in our national office. In a liturgy she wrote for today Elizabeth Dilly writes:
“Come out! Jesus commands, and calls us from the tombs of our existence into the brightness of a new day. Come out, Jesus cries,
and unbinds us from the chains of our past. Come out, Jesus calls,
and entices us into a world filled with grace and possibility.
So. Go out! Go out into a world that needs our life, our breath, our spirit! Go out into a world that needs the Spirit of God, carried on our lips and in our loving arms. Go out into the world to live as God’s resurrected people! Go out and go on the breath of God’s holy wind!”[iv]
My dear ones, we cannot physically “go out” in this time of social distancing, these days of isolation. But we can go out in spirit, we have the technology reach-out to the lonely and to each other. We have the resources to lift-up the most vulnerable in our society and we have do have the faith, my friends, to indwell love, to be love, and to share love; God is love and so are we!” God is love, and in these difficult days, so are we!”
[i] Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for True Self (Jossey Bass: 2013) 176-178.
[iii] Ibid Rohr