Scripture Lesson: John 11:1-45. The Raising of Lazarus
There’s another story in the New Testament involving Mary and Martha. In that story, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And Martha is busy with much serving – making dinner, setting the table. She wants help from Mary. But Jesus reprimands her and affirms Mary as the one who has chosen the better portion. All of you who know me know I tend to sympathize with Martha and I don’t think she deserves the put down attributed to Jesus. But in this story, Martha shines. When Mary encounters Jesus, she manages, ‘If you had been here, Lazarus never would have died.’ But when Martha gets to Jesus, after her brother has been in the grave four days, she tells him, ‘If you had been here, my brother would never have died! Yet even now, I am sure that God will give you whatever you ask.’ Martha goes above and beyond. She expects something more. Her faith, hope, and trust lead her to look past what would normally be expected. She sees a new reality.
This past week, the President has informed us that he wants the nation “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” He wants people back to work by then and the pews full on Easter Sunday. He wants things back to normal. That’s about two weeks from now. In that time, the President wants the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. He wants us all freed from life on lock down. Roll away the stone. Come out of the tomb and get back to business as usual.
Business as usual. That is not what Martha wants. She knows her brother is dead. But she knows that there is more. There is something more than normal. She puts her faith to work expecting a new reality. And she gets it.
What if what we want in the face of this pandemic is not to go back to ‘normal’ but to expect something more; to see this as an opportunity for creating a new reality beyond usual expectations and business as usual?
Yes, thousands have died in this pandemic so far and thousands more will die. They will not get their physical health back. Those loved ones will not return to their earthly life. But what if this pandemic means the death of limited access to healthcare in this country? What if this crisis means the death of misspent resources? What if it puts some greed and lust for gain in the grave? What if this pandemic awakens our concern for children, elders, and those who are vulnerable? What if it resurrects our commitment to the common good over selfish individualism? What if this coronavirus calls forth compassion for other people and other life forms? What if it brings out patience? What if COVID-19 calls to life solidarity in grief? What if it summons a reverence for nature? What if this pandemic wakes us up to the value of reflection, rest, relationships, the arts, and play? What if it renews our appreciation and respect for those who work in the healthcare sector?
What if we don’t go back to normal, but awaken to a new reality that is better than the one we knew?
Did you notice in the story of Lazarus that for the new reality to emerge Jesus practices social distancing! Think about it. The way the story is told, Jesus is informed that Lazarus is sick. Lazarus is Jesus’ dearly beloved friend. Surely Jesus’ first impulse is to go to his friend, to be with him, to heal him. That is what’s normal. But Jesus waits. Two whole days – which can seem like forever when someone is sick. By the time Jesus goes to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Imagine the self discipline and the restraint that Jesus employs. He doesn’t go to his friend, he holds off, for a greater good. As usual, Jesus is our example!
Maybe the President wants things back to normal in two weeks. But our faith invites us to expect something more than “normal” to emerge from this pandemic. And it may require much more of us in terms of sacrifice and self discipline and restraint.
May our faith, hope, and trust persist and grow exponentially so that we may all see the power of Divine Love creating a new reality before our very eyes!