Surrounded by Joy

Sunday, November 1, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 11:32-44

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” These are the words spoken to Jesus by both Martha and then Mary in today’s gospel story. And some of the people added, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus was getting bombarded from everyone with criticism. I can understand the remarks. Can’t you? Jesus and the disciples were out of town and when Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick he did not rush to get there. In fact, John’s gospel says that Jesus and his disciples stayed two extra days. Didn’t Jesus care? Certainly that is what everyone must have been wondering. What they were all saying is “Where were you? Where were you Jesus?”

It’s a question we’re all still asking today. When someone we love dies, we often ask, “Where were you Lord? Why didn’t you prevent this?” When our health or the health of those we love is struck down, we ask, “Where are you Lord?” Life is filled with tragedies that make no sense. Good people are afflicted with problem after problem. Accidents happen that take the lives of people who have barely had a chance to live. Look at the most recent storms in Texas, . Some of these people have lost everything. Their houses and lives are destroyed. Their dreams are broken and shattered. Where we ask, are you Jesus? Why didn’t you prevent this? Isn’t Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah?

John’s gospel gives us seven I AM statements about who Jesus is. “I AM the Bread of Life. I Am The Light of the World. I AM The Gate. I AM The Good Shepherd. I AM The Resurrection and The Life. I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. I AM the Vine.” These statements tell us that Jesus is the Source of our nourishment, our protection, our connection to God. They exude a sense of power and strength and are a source of hope. Yet two words in today’s gospel say more about Jesus and God than any of these statements. Jesus began to weep. These four words speak volumes. Jesus was not a distant Messiah. Jesus was and is present with us in the midst of our pain. When Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping over the death of Lazarus whom they loved, He wept too. Jesus wept because He was and is intimately connected to us. When we suffer Jesus suffers and when we are grieving Jesus grieves with us because He loves us. Love does not stand on the outside and avoid getting hurt. Love takes action. Love gets involved even if it means the possibility of getting hurt.

In the very beginning of John’s gospel we hear that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus is the Word made flesh. God saw that the world was hurting and suffering. God saw that we were going to be lost to sin and death and because God loves us, God took action. God came down from heaven by sending Jesus to us to save us from ourselves. God loved us so much that God would do whatever was necessary to save us even if that meant death, death on a cross. So when Jesus was weeping at Lazarus’ tomb he was right there in Mary’s pain. He was right there in the pain of the crowds. He was right there in the pain of all who loved Lazarus and Jesus wept. He wept because their pain was his pain.

Yet although Lazarus was dead for four days and all seemed hopeless, with God nothing is hopeless. Whatever it is that binds us, we are not too far gone. God worked through Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead and unbind him and God has worked through Jesus to set us free as well. It is this hope that we celebrate today on All Saints Day. Death does not have the final victory! We do not as St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians “grieve as those who have no hope.” We grieve, but even in the midst of our grief there is a joy, a deep joy because we know that joy comes in the morning. Joy comes in the presence of God.

In the scientific study of quantum physics we learn that matter doesn’t go out of existence. In other words a living thing doesn’t just cease to exist. It simply changes form. Those whom we love who have died have not ceased to exist; they have simply changed from one form to another. They are changed and in the presence of God, yet so are we.

Something very amazing happens here every Sunday. We gather around Jesus’ table and celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. Think about those words Holy Communion – a sacred union. When we gather around this table – we, God’s saints – gather together in a sacred union with all the saints – even those who have changed forms. In other words, even those who are no longer with us on this earthly plane. Some churches have purposely built their altar rails in a semi-circle to visually illustrate this sacred circle that does not end. Through our baptism we are united with all the saints – past and present – as we gather around the altar to receive the Living God.

When we are here worshipping together as the body of Christ and receiving the Body of Christ all the saints are here as well. Those who have died as we hear in the readings from Isaiah and Revelation are celebrating with God in a great and victorious feast and we are celebrating in a foretaste of that feast to come. Right here as we gather around this table we gather with all the saints. It is a sacred space when the veil of heaven is thin and we and those we love are united. Let the Holy Spirit open you up to feel this most sacred experience.

And through this sacred experience, this blessed sacrament, Christ comes and dwells within us and works in and through us. When Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, he told those around him to unbind Lazarus. Jesus unbinds us with forgiveness and grace each time we receive Him in this holy meal. He unbinds us from our fear. He unbinds us from our worries. He unbinds us from our grief. Death no longer need terrify us and life no longer need terrify us. Some of us are afraid to live again, afraid to experience joy again, afraid to be alive, but through Christ Jesus we are all made alive. He has overcome death and the grave. Jesus has overcome the enemy and removed all reason to fear. It is time to live again. It is time to live as the resurrection people we are called to be. Jesus has unbound us and asks us to free those around us as well.

In the midst of our sufferings, we often ask Jesus, “Where are you?” but Jesus asks us the same question. “Where are you? Where are you when your brothers and sisters are in need? Where are you when those around you are suffering?” God is with us in the midst of our suffering and works through us to help set people free. As followers of Jesus, we too like those around Lazarus are asked to unbind those who are in need of being released. God works through us to bring food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, shelter to the homeless, and comfort to the afflicted. God works through us to bring the Good News of hope to those who need to hear it – a phone call, a card, a letter, an email or text, a hug, a smile, or even a hand to hold. When someone needs to feel the presence of God, it is our hands that God wants to work through. It is our voices that God wants to speak through. And when we are at a loss for words, we can weep along with those who suffer, just as Jesus weeps with us.

Jesus unbinds us through His forgiveness and grace and as disciples asks us to unbind those who need to be set free as well.  It is when we do this for one another that we reveal that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. No matter how long we have been dead to sin or how rotten and decomposed our life is, Jesus breathes new life into it. Jesus can make us come alive again! He calls us out of our lives of darkness and into a life of light with Him, the Light of the world! Where is God in the midst of our pain? God is present through each one of us – saints of God – and we are as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews “Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight of sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Look around, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Let us begin to live today in the joy of that promise! Amen!