Summary: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We see this in his raising of Lazarus, in our everyday lives, and at the time when we face death.
God’s ways are not our ways. We spend a great deal of time reminding ourselves of this truth, while at the same time attempting to figure out what God’s ways really are. In the gospel lesson today, we see this question addressed. Rather than frustration—like we often approach the issue—the writer of John underscores a message of purpose and hope.
After a confrontation with the Jews—the religious leaders of the Jewish people—Jesus and his disciples leave Jerusalem and cross to the other side of the Jordan River. They are safe, at least for a while, and out of the reach of the authorities. While on the other side of the Jordan, Jesus receives the message that Lazarus is ill. Jesus hears the message and does something strange. He doesn’t do anything at all.
The writer of the gospel of John takes great pains to underscore that Jesus loved Lazarus. In verse 3, the message that Mary and Martha send to Jesus is, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” This is affirmed in verse 5 where the writer notes, “Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, stayed two days.”
Throughout the ages Christians have had to wrestle with the fact that God often doesn’t intervene in our lives at the time and in the way we want God to act. The people of God have faced ridicule, ostracism, persecution and torture. God’s children have prayed for healing in the face of illness and death. Today Christians have prayed not to be laid off or not to lose their homes. Often their prayers have seemingly been unanswered. God has been so silent.
In times of waiting, we often question God’s power, presence, and knowledge of our situation. We have wondered if God truly does love us. Emphasizing Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters, the writer of John wants to set aside our doubts and affirm that God loves has and is moving in ways we do not understand.
Martha affirms her faith in the truth of the resurrection. When Jesus states that he is the resurrection and the life, Martha responds, “Yes Lord, I believe you are the Messiah.” Martha was able to make this statement of faith without anything to go on except Jesus. Lazarus had not been raised, yet.
Resurrection can only happen in the midst of death. While we experience death, we assert the truth of the resurrection. Death is not final. The future contains hope.
As Christians, we comfort each other with the hope of the resurrection when a loved one has died. Resurrection, though, is a frequent occurrence in our lives. Circumstances change and items that once bristled with life wither and die. Relationships die as do jobs, possessions, and health. In the middle of these deaths, Jesus comes proclaiming the resurrection—the presence of life.
Both Martha and Mary accuse Jesus of not coming soon enough. “If you would have been here, Lazarus would not have died.” Martha says this in verse 21 and Mary in verse 32. Mary says it and weeps.