Reflection on John 11:1-45
Sunday 29th March 2020
I don’t know if you noticed but the clocks changed this morning. Most years on this particular Sunday the final blessing in Church is accompanied by the sound of the Church door creaking open followed by the gasp of a latecomer realising their mistake. If they’re lucky the sermon will have gone on too long and their entrance will be hidden by the singing of the final hymn, or they’ll notice the church clock before they make it inside, but my favourite is always when I get to catch their eye as I give their entrance a special final blessing!
The clocks changed this morning, but this year so much else has changed that a lost hour is the least of our concerns. We’ve lost so much more in recent days and I’m sure that like me most of you are still struggling to adjust to our new ‘normal’.
Our reading from John’s Gospel is the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus and his disciples hear that their good friend Lazarus is ill. After spending a couple of days weighing his options – the last time he was in that area they tried to kill him – Jesus and his disciples set off on a journey to the village of Bethany to visit him. While they are still on their way Jesus gets word that they are too late, Lazarus has died.
When they eventually arrive in Bethany they are greeted by Lazarus’s sisters. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”, comes the angry challenge, first from Martha then from Mary. Jesus responds to their words but then, realising that words are not enough, he joins them in wordless, tear-stained grief. Finally he stands, walks with Martha to the tomb, and calls Lazarus out – miraculously, wonderfully, astonishingly alive.
It’s a remarkable story, not least for the depth of friendship which is clearly revealed between Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I wonder whether they were childhood friends? Or perhaps Jesus and Lazarus worked together with Jesus’ father the carpenter? Whatever it is, there is much more to their relationship than the couple of brief glimpses we see in the Gospels.
I want to set aside the fascinating details of the story for a moment, however, and see what wisdom we can find in reading it as a parable for our current moment in time.
It seems to me that we have experienced a collective bereavement of our own in recent days. We have suffered the loss of a future we had planned – weddings postponed, School trips cancelled, visits to family on hold, work opportunities denied us. We have suffered the loss of freedoms we took for granted – popping to the supermarket on a whim, coffee with a neighbour, a hug from a friend. And we have suffered a loss of confidence – how long will this go on? Will those I love be ok? How on earth will we get through this?
We feel hopeless, we feel helpless, we are grieving, as Mary and Martha grieved. But bringing hope to hopeless situations is what Jesus does. And so into that grief, as the flame of hope flickers in the darkness, Jesus comes and sits beside us. Jesus, who hears every heartfelt prayer, every angry cry, every anxious thought, responds not with words, but by joining us in wordless tear-stained grief. And for the moment, that is enough.
One day we will stand again, and the world will turn again, and it will never quite look the same again. The clocks changed this morning. And, in time, so will we.