Click to open Bulletin for 3-29-20
March 29th, 2020
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
Upper St. Croix Parish UMC
“Is it Not the Time Yet?”
Experiencing the situation of the pandemic COVID 19, we see many deaths every single day. Hearing how more people died today than yesterday, we may feel that the threat of death comes to us. This uncertain situation leads us to fear and panic day by day. Therefore, we buy more stuff to survive in safe. Stores are going to be empty or closed. Even though we buy enough food and store them at home, our fear does not disappear. No one does not know that everyone dies someday. Nevertheless, COVID 19 gives us a chaotic panic because this situation provides us with a fear of death, grief of the loss, anger, disconnectedness, hopelessness, and uncertain waiting.
In the scripture of today, two sisters experience the fear of death, grief of the loss, anger, disappointment, disconnectedness, hopelessness, and uncertain waiting. They are Martha and Mary, whose brother is Lazarus. According to the Gospels, Jesus had enjoyed the hospitality of their home, and during his ministry, Jesus used to stay at their house (Luke 10:38-42; Matt. 21:17; Mark 11:11-12). We are made keenly aware here of the precious gift these three loving friends were to Jesus. Martha and Mary believed that Jesus loves them and if they face an awkward situation, that Jesus comes first and helps them.
One day, their beloved brother was sick, and sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” After Jesus heard it, he stayed there two more days, saying, “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.” However, the two sisters’ brother Lazarus died. Martha and Mary, who were waiting for Jesus, and then who expected something for “God’s glory,” not for the death, might be disappointed. Their brother is gone. It is over.
How strange! According to verse 5, Jesus loved them, but he stayed there two more days. If Jesus loved their family so dearly, how odd that he would remain in that place two more days with unhurried and seemingly unconcerned. Was there any ministry more urgent than the need of his dear friend?
We might imagine that their expectation toward Jesus is changed to disappointment. They both said to Jesus the same words as soon as they saw Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In their expectation, there might be much suffering from the grief of the loss. Their pain is real even though they believed in the resurrection. Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Martha, who was a practical and realistic activist, was hurrying out to meet Jesus when she heard he was near. She could not stay around the house mourning. How consistent with the picture in the Gospel of Luke, where she is bustling around the kitchen preparing the meal for their guest, impatient with Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42). She expresses great faith in Jesus when she meets him. It is merely a fact, she declares, and that if he had been with them, her brother would never have died. And even now, she is sure that whatever Jesus asks for, God will give. However, I wonder if she believes that Jesus raises Lazarus. When Jesus makes the general statement that her brother will rise again, her reply indicates she accepted the traditional Jewish belief in the resurrection at the last day. This is a doctrine she had learned. She trusts Jesus, but she has not grasped who he really is. So often we know the Bible verses or the doctrine, little realizing the majestic, life-giving presence the words reveal.
In verse 25, Jesus declares the source of Lazarus’ resurrection with his statement, “I am the resurrection and life.” Resurrection, the defeat of death, is an event, a reality within Jesus, who is life.
Death cannot prevail in his presence! And, it is not a concept or a doctrine, but a personal reality. If one clings to Jesus, because s/he is united with Jesus in faith, s/he is living eternally now as well as at the end. The one will pass through an incident called physical death but cannot die eternally because Jesus has put in him/her his life. We remember, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus asks Martha directly if she believes this. And, she confesses, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” It means that Jesus stands with her in the presence of death, knowing with her its pain and terror, but offering life which can turn sorrow and separation into joy and wonder. It is the reality of faith that we stand with Jesus in the presence of death, knowing with pain and suffering. However, perhaps we still stand on the Christian doctrine of resurrection, not with Jesus, who is life.
We hate death as well as angry with it. Jesus also shuddered with grief and anger, even audibly like the snorting of horses when he saw Mary was weeping in her grief (v. 33). Now, Jesus weeps quietly (v.35). The crowd wrongly assumes that Jesus weeps because he loved Lazarus, whose death is so final. They wonder why he could not have kept his friend Lazarus from dying, knowing about his healing of the blind man. Jesus grieves at the front of tomb because of the darkness which blinds the people to the Truth Jesus. They cannot see who he is that has come and what God will do through him even though they stand with Jesus. Because they still stand on the doctrine that the Messiah will come and that the dead will resurrect, they cannot see that Jesus is the resurrection and life.
Jesus said, “take away the stone.” It means that to take away pre-knowledge of the doctrine. However, Martha said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
Martha, who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, is still there of the doctrine and at the problem. So, Jesus reminds her she will see the glory of God if she will believe.
Now, it is a time that we move to real life in our faith. Watching the news of COVID 19 every day, the Apostle Paul’s confession comes to my mind. He confesses, “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31), expressing his suffering life with persecution. His daily life was like a war to spread the good news out to persecutors. However, what he dies every day, in other words, means that he experiences the resurrection every day. That is, he experienced death every day, and he also experienced the resurrection at the same time because he stood with Jesus at the front of death. Like Paul, who is a great apostle, we should live out our faith in our daily lives, experiencing life and death. Jesus is the reality of our lives beyond the doctrine, not a religious concept.
It is a time to “take away” stone of the tomb. Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” at the front of the grave (v.43). Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus gave him life and freedom. Jesus did not make him not to get ill and not to die. Jesus seemed unhurried to get them, but he wept with them in the grief. Sometimes we expect that God gives us a solution of the matter, but instead, God is with us who are suffering, sick, crying, and dying. God may not give us the key of solution. Instead, God may fight with COVID 19 in the ill and the medical staff. It is a time to live out in our faith of resurrection to pass over COVID 19. It is a time to unite one another in Christ.
I miss my daily life. How precious our daily lives are! I took everything in my everyday life for granted, such as air, water, and even people around me. To be honest, I never thought of it genuinely. However, now, I recognize how amazing grace our daily lives are! I pray that we may experience the joy of resurrection at Easter throughout the suffering Lenten season.
Thanks be to God! Amen.