Rev. Danielle K Bartz November 7, 2021
John 11:32-44 “Jesus Wept”
“What happens after we die?” This is a question children and adults alike ask. I have heard it asked in the midst of grief, and I have heard it asked quietly, thoughtfully, and bravely by those who are simply wondering what comes next. As clergy I have been asked this question more times than I can remember. And, as someone who wonders what the answer is myself, I have asked this question too. Today, on the day we set aside as a church to remember and honor those who have died, I am sure many of us find ourselves wondering about this.
As I said, I have been asked this question many times. No answer I can give feels adequate, and the best I have is that, while I don’t know, we must lean into the mystery of God. It is this mystery that not only draws us back here week after week, a mystery that leaves such great room to explore the presence of God in varied ways, and a mystery that can at times leave us frustrated. In moments of grief, whether fresh and raw, or worn and familiar – accepting that death and whatever comes after is simply one of God’s mysteries that we can never fully understand is cold comfort.
That is why, in those moments, I often turn to the story of Lazarus, a portion of which we heard read today. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, well known sisters whose appear in the Gospels on several occasions. Jesus had been to their home, Mary had anointed his feet with oil, and they both sought out his teaching. They were some of the earliest believers in Jesus, so when their brother became ill, they call for Jesus to heal him. Jesus was traveling, and by the time he arrived, Lazarus had died. That is where the scripture from today continues the story. In it we hear Mary and Martha wish that Jesus had been there and healed their brother. We hear the disciples question what Jesus could have done. We hear a story of resurrection, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and new life. But, most importantly, we hear a story of unashamed grief. We learn of Jesus’ own grief. The words of the scripture may seem distant or even stale, but listen past them. When Jesus saw Mary and her community weeping – Jesus was disturbed and deeply moved. When Jesus asked where Lazarus was buried, we read, in the shortest verse in the Gospel, that Jesus wept on the way. When Jesus arrives at the tomb and the stone is rolled away, he cries for Lazarus to come out. While so often this is interpreted to be a command, a moment of God’s authority, I also hear in it a very human cry for life in the midst of death. Of grief overwhelming someone and crying out in desperation for death to be no more. It is a cry I have heard shouted from the lips of those in turmoil, and a cry I have heard within my own soul when the death in this world feels like too much.
I am fond of reminding you that as Christians we are an Easter people, a people of resurrection, a people of life. The story of Lazarus is a taste of the coming resurrection of Christ, meant to help us prepare to receive that miracle. We are indeed an Easter people, but we must also remember we are a Christmas people. A people of incarnation, a people who believe that God took on human flesh, walked amongst us, experienced life, experienced joy, and experienced profound grief. While there is great joy in our identity as Easter people, there is great comfort in the reminder that first we are Christmas people, people of incarnation, a people who believe God exists within the very flesh of humanity.
I don’t know what happens after we die. The only answer I am able to offer is that life and death and everything in between is part of the extraordinary mystery of God. But in the midst of that mystery, we can draw comfort in knowing that we do not suffer and grieve alone. We do so with this community. We do so with God. We do so knowing that God experiences the power of our grief but does not turn away from it. God is here, in the midst of this mysterious life we have been gifted, holding us close and pointing us to hope. Amen.
Holy One, Creator of all to You, we give thanks for every blessing.
Form within us wisdom, sustained and nurtured by your Holy Spirit that we might have the grace to listen
deeply and respond with compassion
May we be filled with gratitude for every gift of life, for family, friends, and the Saints who have gone before us.
From those who are peacemakers, may we learn, and follow their example.
From those who are pure in heart may we become likewise, Christ-like.
For those who suffer, we ask for comfort
For those who are ill, we ask for healing
For those who struggle, we ask for peace
For those who worry, we ask for guidance
For those who are anxious, we ask for solace
For those who are hungry, may we give food
For those who are homeless, may we provide shelter
For those who are poor, may we bring sustenance
For all the worries and cares of this earth,
May we be your heart and hands
May we be generous as You.
Holy One, Creator of all
To You we give thanks for every blessing,
for You are generous, O lover of all.
God of every nation, tribe, people, and language,
God of all creation, this great multitude of life
We give you thanks.
Bless us, that we may be a blessing in return.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who walked among us and showed us life in the midst of death. And we pray in the way he taught by saying…Our Father…