Readings appointed for Lent 5A can be found at http://lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Lent/ALent5_RCL.html
My calling has been shaped by death, but it is also one shaped by life. From a stint in chaplaincy, to the cradle to grave nature of my current call as rector of a parish, I have walked with people in times of joy and in times of deep sorrow.
Weeping at the grave feels familiar to me, I’ve been there to witness and to weep. And, so as we stand at the tomb, Lazarus’ tomb, it feels familiar. I, like many of you, know that grief.
We know the grief that accompanies death and in the story of Lazarus we are invited to know death but also to know life. To know life where we had expected death.
And with that knowledge, we hold onto the Christian hope that I have preached at every funeral I have presided at.
The truth? That death is not the end of our story.
It is not the end of the story here and now, and it was not the end of the story then and there. In that place where Jesus and his disciples knew he was on tenuous footing, the situation was volatile and any moment could bring things to a head. And, this, this moment of death become life, was that moment…
That moment of death become life. That moment the last straw.
The last straw was life.
Because, when Jesus wept at the grave of his friend. And, his friend awoke from the sleep that was death.
Jesus had defied, in the eyes of authorities, heaven and earth.
And, this was the last straw for those authorities who feared his power and his seeming defiance of the rules of God and man. For this and for fear, we will find him on the cross.
But, before the cross is life. And, this was a defiance born not of power…but, of love.
For when he answered the call of his dear friends Mary and Martha, he responded out of love. Mary and Martha were sure of his love for their family and sure of their love for him. And so, their call to him was born out of the blessed assurance that his love would lead him.
Would lead him to death.
Not the death of Lazarus. Tho’ that is the central instrument driving this particular portion of the narrative. But, his own death. To return to Bethany in Judea was to put himself back in the public eye.
And, ultimately that public would rise up both in acclamation and in condemnation.
Because, the last straw was life.
Life, born of love. Of faith. Of trust.
That perfect love that casts out fear.
And, conquers death.
Conquers death, once and for all.
As the prophet had foretold…
“you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live”
The people of Israel knew, they knew that God’s call would be to life. But, they did not know how it might come. So when he opened the grave the people saw and when they saw they knew. They knew that all their hopes would be fulfilled, and that the immutable law was not death, but life.
The cry of the people was answered and would be answered afresh when the body rent asunder becomes the body made whole.
Tears born of love.
Sorrow birthing joy.
Lamentation born of hope.
And, in that, I want you to sit for just a moment with a powerful truth—lament is born of hope.
We lament because we trust in God’s promise. We lament because we trust in God’s future. We lament because we, like Mary and Martha, WE are dissatisfied with the status quo that accepts death as inevitable and loss as the end.
The tradition of lamentation comes from a place of utter reliance on the God of our salvation. Lament confronts the powerful with despair and anger, holding those powers accountable to the promises that have been made, “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.”
I hear the anger in her voice…IF you had been here, my brother would not have died. And, then the faith that confronts Jesus with an undeniable truth—his path is the path of life. Even now…even now, I know that you will keep God’s promise of life!
Martha knew. Mary knew. And, what they knew the world would see.
See the sorrow as he began to weep, see the testimony of love expressed by his tears. See the life that came from a lament fulfilled in life.
“see how he loved him”
“see how he loved him”
And when we can see this, we can see a further truth…”see how he loves us.”
Throughout scripture we see God responding again and again to our pain and suffering with healing, wholeness and the constant invitation to reconciliation.
So, when I hear Mary and Martha in their despair and anger, their pain and frustration, I hear lamentation but I also hear an invitation to a life of faith that pins its hopes on new life in Christ.
The tradition of lamentation is one that has become central to my understanding of what it is to be a Christian in the here and the now—lamentation expresses our anguish at what is from the perspective of what we know can be.
We lament because we hope. We lament because we trust in the promise that death is not the end of the story and that the death dealing powers of this world will lose.
Lamentation is the protest march of scripture—a protest march against those powers that would steal life from us and from any of God’s people.
So to be a Christian is to lament with hope and participate in the protest. Joining in the righteous indignation, “if you had been here”.
If YOU had been here!
This is the cry we make, yet it is also the cry that we are called to heed. Because, in our tradition we hold that the you of Christ Jesus is the truth of all of us. We are the body of Christ and we are being asked to show up with life in the “here” where there is death. The here where we ourselves participate in the in-breaking of life. Ushering God into the presence of those broken places and people that long for wholeness. We lament and we respond to lamentation—it is our nature and it is our calling.
And, so this Lenten time—is one of lament. A lamentation that confronts the status quo of death with the truth of which Paul speaks, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death”.
Set free from death…scripture teaches that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God. So in our living and in our dying we are participants in a body that is not bound by death--”unbind him and let him go” he says. And he, and we, are free.
The last straw is life, and this life has set us free.
And from this place of freedom, we are invited to become active participants in the lamentation that confronts death dealers with life bringers. To be, as Christians, those that keep God's promise of life in the face of those who deal in death.
The last straw is life. The last straw is ours. And, when we lay that last straw down, we shall break the back of death and all shall be free.