A homily for All Saints Sunday, John 11:32-44
“Lazarus, come out!” And with that, a dead man has been raised, a life interrupted has restarted, Jesus has exercised his greatest act of healing and restoration (although not the first person he heals of death, certainly the most time has passed between death and healing). This act is even more powerful because of the emotion and conflicted sense of responsibility that surrounds this moment.
Just before we pick up this story, Jesus is informed of Lazarus’ illness. Lazarus was a close personal friend of Jesus, and it was thought that if word reached him, he would immediately return to heal his friend. But he doesn’t, he continues his ministry where he is. So, by the time he arrives, not only is he too late to heal a sick Lazarus, but he has missed the death and burial of Lazarus. And, Jesus is challenged. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
It is an accusation and a declaration of fact all at the same time.
It is the declaration that Jesus could, would have healed her brother, would have prevented him from dying, prevented the grief that they posses. It is an accusation that he put his ministry to others above one of his closest friends. It is an accusation and a declaration made out of a place of immense grief and loss. An accusation and declaration that is shared among those gathered to mourn the loss of their brother, their friend. The emotional power behind this statement causes great distress in Christ, his spirit is deeply moved, he begins to weep. Not so much for the personal loss of Lazarus, but for this experience of grief, this communal expression of loss that is shared among all gathered. Jesus weeps for their grief. Jesus weeps for their loss.
Maybe this is why some of those gathered question his motives, question his ability. Jesus, even there in their midst, feels distant, removed from this moment. Jesus is separate from all others gathered together to mourn, for he doesn’t mourn, he grieves, but for something else, something different. He comes to the tomb. The stench of the decomposing body is already seeping out from behind the stone sealing the cave. The gospel makes a note of reiterating that Jesus is greatly disturbed here still, but he knows what he is about to do, so what is causing his disturbance? What has shook Jesus that he responds to those who would doubt his ability even now, as he is among them, ready to perform the radical healing they had sought four days earlier, with a damning question, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
I hear this statement coming across somewhat accusatory, incredulous that those gathered, that Martha, would doubt what he sets out to do. Is this not what you wanted? Is this not why I am here? Of course I could’ve come and healed him when he was sick, but there were others who needed me, at least that is the priority I decided.
I wonder, did Jesus always intend to raise Lazarus? Even in coming to mourn his death, did Jesus know he was going to raise Lazarus as he traveled to this place, his emotional reaction being a combination of surprise and love for the very real grief of those around him, or is his emotional reaction a very real response to the realization that what he thought was right and what was expected of him as a friend did not coincide, and that he could’ve saved this grief from happening, but now that he was present, he could still do something about it. I wonder about the motivation of Christ in this story because it isn’t clear, even his emotional reaction is ambiguous and open to interpretation. I wonder what the message for us is as followers of this path, of Christ.
We make a note today to celebrate All Saints. We celebrate with those holy people who have come before us and left us an example of our collective best attempts at following the life of Christ in this world. We celebrate those holy people in our lives, known often only to us, that we try and model our lives after, having seen Christ shine so bright in them. It is in this celebration and period of remembrance that we look to a Christ that leaves us wondering today. But I think through those examples that have been left for us we can begin to see themes emerge that point to what Christ is trying to show us today.
A focus on love. A focus on doing what is right, on doing what we are called to do, even when that means personal self-sacrifice. A focus on inviting the holy into conversation, of being willing to challenge, to gently prod, to rebuke when necessary, and to embrace once more with more love than we knew was possible. This is the Christ that weeps. This is the Christ that stands outside of Lazarus’ tomb. This is the Christ that our saints of past, present, and future follow. This is the Christ that calls out, “Lazarus, come out!”, healing death for this one man, and eventually healing death for us all with the promise of an eternal life.
This is the Christ that we are called to follow, a life that we are called to live into with our whole selves, a life that has been modeled for us by others past, a life that challenges us, that shakes us, that leaves us greatly disturbed, that inspires great moments of love, of self-sacrifice, of service, of re-prioritization, and of acknowledging when we can and should do more. I call you my siblings in Christ to stand at the tomb and cry out, “Lazarus, come out!” And in so doing, inspire the gathered congregation to access the divine power that is available to all of us if we have faith.