Reflection for Sunday – April 2, 2017
Readings: Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8: 8-11; John 11: 1-45
Preacher: Nora Bradbury-Haehl
Back in the 90’s Tori Amos had a song that went, “God sometimes you just don’t come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?” I’ve been feeling a lot like Tori lately, like God somehow dropped the ball or stopped paying attention.
As I watch my Muslim friends suffer—a couple of teenagers from my interfaith group whose grandmother passed away because she couldn’t get back in the country for medical care—I think, “God sometimes you just don’t come through.” I see my refugee friends who now find themselves the targets of a new hostility in this nation that has become home to them. As I was writing this morning, I got news from a friend who is working on immigration issues of an undocumented mother of six being arrested. What will these children do without their mother? “God sometimes you just don’t come through.” I feel like saying along with Mary and Martha, “Lord if you had been here…”
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” they each say at different points in today’s Gospel, despairing that their dear friend Jesus, who had been the source of healing for so many strangers, would fail to come when they most needed him to heal their own brother.
There’s more to this story, of course, than just the “human” part. It is included in John’s Gospel because it has a big cosmic message about who Jesus is as the Christ and his power over death. Martha’s profound profession of faith is unprecedented and when she says of her brother, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus response is powerful: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
But there are some very human moments in this divine story that are worth looking closely at. At first, Jesus remains at a distance, for two days after he hears the news he stays put. Lazarus’ illness won’t end in death but like the man born blind from last week’s gospel, this illness is a chance for the glory of God to be revealed.
But when Jesus finally comes to Mary and Martha, things change. It’s different when he gets close up. It’s almost as if he gets impatient with the theology, with light and dark and glory and revelation. The scripture tells us that when Jesus sees Mary weeping, “he became perturbed and deeply troubled” and goes right to the grave. When he gets close enough to see his friend Lazarus’ closed tomb, he is perturbed again and calls Lazarus back from death.
So what does this mean for us? What about my Muslim friends, and my refugee friends, and that undocumented woman? What about your friend with cancer or your daughter who is addicted or whatever is breaking your heart right now today? “Lord if you had been here…”
I don’t know. What I do know is this: like Jesus, we have to get close.
Back in January I went to the Women’s March on Washington. When I saw coverage of it later it seemed, from a distance, like just another crowd. But in the street, up close, you could see the black and Hispanic women, the pregnant women and the old women, the disabled women, the lesbian women and the trans women, the women who were survivors of sexual violence. Up close you could read their signs. Up close you could feel their pain.
We have to stay close…to each other, to those in need.
If you remain at a distance you can pretend that pain is just discomfort, that injuries might only be insults. But when you stay close to someone you know their struggles. You see their wounds.
Pope Francis has called for the church to accompany people rather than judge them. He wants shepherds that smell like the sheep and a church that is a field hospital for the battle weary. “It needs nearness, proximity.” Cardinal Cupich of Chicago just said in a nationally televised town hall meeting, the church, “stands with immigrants.” We have to get close like Jesus did and let our hearts break along with the Marthas and Marys of the world.
Because I was up close when those Muslim teenagers told the story of losing their grandmother, I got to watch the other teens, thus far unaffected by immigration policy themselves, hover around the girls, offer sympathy, share their grief, support them in their loss. Because I was up close I got to strategize with some refugee kids about how we might educate those who don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee.
We have to get close. We have to stay close.
The practices of Lent are meant to help us do this. When we fast, in a small way we get closer to the hungry. When we give alms we can finally hear the cry of the poor. When we pray we can let ourselves get perturbed not only with our own needs but to all who cry out to God, “Lord if you had been here…” When we get close, and stay close, we finally see along with the blind man, and along with Lazarus, we too are raised from the dead.