Gospel: John 11:1-45
1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
  17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
  28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
  38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”    45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Gospel Time “When We Are Sad”

P:   Hello.  Beaky (bird puppet-facing away) and Munchie (chipmunk puppet) have come to be with us again today. Maybe they’ll say good morning…

M: Good morning!

B:  (unintelligible bird sound)

M: What’s wrong, Beaky?

(silence)

M: (louder) Beaky!  What’s wrong?

P:   I’m pretty sure Beaky heard us, but doesn’t really want to talk right now.

M: But why?

P:   I don’t know.  Maybe if we give Beaky a little time, and a little space, and keep saying things that help Beaky to know we care, we’ll find out.

(Beaky turns slightly, but jerks away again when Munchie looks over.)

M: I do love Beaky.  Beaky’s one of my very best friends.

P:   Me, too.  I’m kind of sad, because it seems like Beaky’s sad, and the feeling sort of grows out…

M: I’m not sad… yet… but maybe I’m getting there…

(Beaky slowly turns toward the others and sniffs.)

P:   Hello, Beaky.  Seeing your face helps me not to feel quite as sad as I was feeling.  How are you?

B:  I’m really sad.

M: How come?

B:  I heard that people are dying, and… and…

M: Oh, no…

P:   Are you talking about the news about the virus?

B:  Sort of… also, my grampa’s really old, and my mom said he might not last this out, and we can’t go see him because we might make him sick if we do.

P:   Oh, I’m sorry, Beaky!

M: Me, too.

P:   I can understand why you are so sad.

B:  I just wish there was something I could do!

M: Hey, look! (Holds up a folded sheet of paper.) I got this in the mail yesterday. It’s from my gramma.  She doesn’t have a computer, so she made this card to send me.  I’m gonna make one to send back to her.  Maybe you can do that for your grampa!

P:   That sounds like a good idea!

B:  …maybe…

P:   When we’re sad, and when it seems like everything that’s going on around us just makes us more sad, sometimes we have to look for different ways to share God’s love.  We know that God promises new life even after we die, but we can share God’s gift of new life before we die, too.  One way is by connecting with homemade cards and phone calls.

B:  I can do that!  And, I’ll be sure to wash my hands before I make the card, because I love my grampa!  Thank you, Munchie, you made a lot of my sadness go away!

M: You’re welcome!

P:   Let’s pray!  Thank you, Jesus, for bringing us new life.  Help us to find good ways to share the life you give, and the love you live. Amen

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel reading we have the story of Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus becoming ill, and then dying while Jesus delays his journey to visit an extra two days.

It sounds callous and uncaring, even when we consider that Jesus’ eventual arrival is four days after the death of his friend, so that even an immediate journey upon learning of the illness would have put Jesus’ arrival two days after the death.  Doing the math, I expect that Lazarus died about the time the message reached him about the illness.

There are times when news does not reach us as quickly as we’d like, especially when now so much is done almost instantaneously. Sometimes those who know don’t realize how important the news is to someone else.  Sometimes we are just so caught up in other things that important things are missed.

It is interesting that both Martha and Mary have the same thing to say to Jesus when they first see him after the death of their brother.  Both speak in a way that has always seemed to me to be accusatory.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s always felt to me as if they were practically screaming, “Why weren’t you here?!?”

But maybe their words were something else. Maybe they weren’t accusing.  Does it matter?

As Martha engages Jesus in conversation, she does not stop with the words that I’ve seen as accusation.  Instead, she continues, “Even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

I need to admit to you that I find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death somewhat problematic.  I realize the good things.  It certainly amplifies the people’s recognition of his power.  I understand also that it leads ever closer to Jesus’ execution, as the powerful elite cannot allow this non-conforming person of power to continue practicing.  The problem is that I knew the power of Jesus as a 14-year-old girl whose mother died of cancer, and my mother was not called back from death like Lazarus was.  I don’t want to believe that God’s love plays favorites…  Of course what would we do if everyone who ever died was brought back… perpetually?

Then, of course, there’s the adage that some people throw out there that, having seen the glory of the other side, after Lazarus was brought back into this world’s trials he never smiled again…  I’d like to believe that Lazarus would not have been so selfish or petty, that he would have smiled all the more, because he had first-hand knowledge of what waited on the other side, and could proclaim the joys we could all expect…

However, his death and his being brought back was before the death and resurrection of Jesus, so maybe Lazarus was only asleep, and did not experience any of the joys of the resurrection at all until after he died again…  That’s the worst of it all, I think… at some point he had to die again.

Today, thousands have died of Covid 19, after contracting the newer strain of the corona virus.  In addition, this season’s flu has lead to the deaths of 22,000 more. We are doing our best to reduce the spread of this kind of disease, those caused by viruses or bacteria, and those caused by other things.  Our healthcare systems are scrambling.  The first confirmed case in the county where my parents were raised is a two-year old.

Jesus said to Martha, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha answers by saying to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

What does Jesus mean by saying those who live and believe will never die?  Lazarus believed and died.  Millions of Christians since then who believed have died.  We believe, and one day we will die.  It must be something lost in translation, because we die.

Maybe the words of Martha and Mary were not accusatory, but spoken in faith and hope.

I believe as Martha believed, that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God, whose presence among us means that nothing is as it used to be.  Jesus, who died and was resurrected by God, makes everything new and different, meaning that death has no longer the finality it once claimed. 

Because Jesus is the Messiah, we enjoy the promise that life is renewed in the resurrection, and we don’t need to fear death. Not even death cannot separate us from God.  Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah.  And I believe that the corona virus cannot separate us from your love, that you are helping us to learn how to love one another and how to gather in different ways, ways that are safer, and which we must follow as long as this danger confronts us.

Yes, Lord, I believe that you are here with us, with each one of us, wherever, however, and whenever we gather in your name. Amen