Not the Final Word

John 11:1-44 (NRSV)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But 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.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus 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. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When 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.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The 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. When 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus 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.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I 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.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The 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.”

Not the Final Word

I want to start this by sharing the reasons why Session chose to cancel in-person worship for March 15th and 22nd. This decision is based on the best available information that we have at this point in time.

  • A person can be infected with the virus for 10-14 days before showing symptoms. What this means is that you can have the virus and be spreading it unwittingly for almost 2 weeks before “feeling sick.”
  • The virus can live on hard surfaces for over 24 hours.
  • We know of at least 4 individuals in Johnson County have fallen ill this past week, one who has children in the school district. This means that prior to their being ill, these individuals were out and about in the community, potentially spreading the virus among their family, friends and co-workers. I want to stress, we are not to blame people in this. This is merely a description of what has happened.
  • All data that we have shows that this virus is particularly dangerous for those who are over the age of 60. This demographic is the majority of our congregation.
  • Public Health officials are discouraging people meeting in large groups.

With these factors combined together, the Session of OPPC felt that the only responsible option was to cancel in person services. We will, of course, evaluate our course of action based on events on the ground.

I began this Lent with the idea of approaching scripture through the lens of the promises we make at baptism. This week is the question: “Who is your Lord and Savior?”  The answer for Christians to this is “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” This is a deep question that is supposed to be foundational for our lives- our guidance in everything that we do. Because when we say that someone or something is Lord, we say that this person or entity is who directs our actions and when Jesus tells us that he is Lord, he tells us that he also directs our hearts and minds. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

And all of that is nice in theory. It is nice to think about an idealized version of reality where everyone’s hearts are directed toward God. But lets face it: this week is not one of those weeks. I’m not talking about the coronavirus. That’s just a disease. I’m talking about our response to the disease. Its always fascinating to me how many different ways people react in crisis situations. In the past 24 hours I have heard and read the following things:

  • Facebook posts declaring that “Social distancing” is a part of a government plot to get Americans to accept socialism.
  • Churches canceling worship because they are wanting to be careful to not become places where the virus can spread.
  • A New York Times report highlighting how a person went around to stockpile over 17,000 containers of hand sanitizer with the goal of reselling it on Amazon with a 500%-1,000% mark up. (Amazon shut him, and others like him, down.)
  • Meals on Wheels here at the church discussing preventative measures to keep their clients and volunteers safe while still providing a really important service for folks who are already isolated
  • People, when told not to come into work went out and partied in public venues, ignoring requests for people to stay home and keep their distance from each other so as to contain the spread of the virus.
  • Had an older person (+70) tell me, that everyone was just being “fraidy cats” and that it really wasn’t going to be bad.

For us, I wonder how we will be shaped by our affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, in light of the current situation that we find ourselves in. There are others, of course who have faced fear and uncertainty.

Our Gospel story today is the story of Lazarus. There are many directions and questions about this story, but what I am drawn to here is Mary and Martha’s interactions with him. When I read their interaction with Jesus, I hear both anger and faith.

It is understandable why they are angry. They let Jesus know that their brother was sick. He delayed 2 days in coming. Mary and Martha do not know why he delayed, they just know that he is late and that their brother is dead. And so I hear their words are both a statement of faith and a statement of anger. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

What is notable to me in the exchanges with both women, Jesus does not get defensive. He doesn’t try to excuse what has happened or explain away what is happening. He does not rebuke them for a lack of faith. He affirms to Martha the fulness of who he is. Jesus is life. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Even in the midst of death, Jesus brings life and hope to all who look to him. Martha’s affirmation is profound: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

I am struck by this affirmation- the affirmation that assumes that Jesus is actively coming into the world- the world as it was then with brothers who die, and the world as it is now with viruses that spread. A world that has the every day evils that we perpetrate on each other as well as the acts of basic human decency and heroism that we all have a responsibility to live into.  Acknowledging that Jesus is Lord and Savior means that we look with clear eyes of compassion. We know that this is going to be a time in which people will react out of fear, or greed, or anger. But we know the much deeper story, the story that death, fear, greed and anger do not have the final word. That in our baptism we are claimed by a God who cherishes us. That we are beloved in all situations and that when we weep, God weeps with us, when we have joy, God dances with us.

So what does it mean to affirm Christ as Lord and Savior in this time? It means the same as it always have. Love deeply. Use the gifts that God has given you of energy, imagination, intelligence and love to serve those around you. Do not despair but hope. What this looks like should take different forms depending on our circumstances. So, love one another by washing your hands or keeping people in prayer. Call someone who might be feeling isolated. Reach out in love.

It’s that simple. It’s that hard. It is the good news of Christ. Amen.

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