In these days where our homes have become our world, our Gospel reading takes us back to a home we know well – the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We know them well because their little household pops up in the gospels again and again. We know that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet whilst Martha fretted about the housework. We know that Mary poured perfume on Jesus’ feet to worship him and mourn him in the days before his death. And we know the story that we have just heard too – the miraculous raising of the brother of Mary and Martha, who has, up until this point, been a bit on the side-lines of this family’s story.
As three adult siblings living together, they are an unusual group. Lazarus, we might have already guessed, has never been too well – otherwise why would he still be living with his sisters and be unmarried? And here we meet the three of them, together with Jesus, at their most vulnerable and broken. Their brother has finally lost his life, Jesus weeps at Lazarus’s tomb, Mary admonishes Jesus, saying, “He wouldn’t have died if you were here!”, and Martha, clinging to one last hope (one ridiculous hope, onlookers must have felt) insists that she believes that even now, Jesus can do anything. We read about Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb, like a precursor to his own resurrection, and we imagine the joy and disbelief that must have followed; the celebration – the awe – the wonder about what this could possibly mean. We imagine the effect on Lazarus, to be given a second chance at life. How do you think it would have changed him? We imagine the sisters too – how would this miracle have changed their lives? How would it have shifted their priorities? They say that a near-death experience changes forever our perceptions of what’s important. We refocus. We’re more aware of beauty, of love, of our responsibilities. We live every day as if it counts.
And this, of course, is where we are – it is where the whole world is. We are Mary, lost in grief. We are Martha, clinging to hope. We are Lazarus, waiting to be redeemed. We are Jesus – grieving and yet called to bring light, hope and life into the world.
And we are more than all of these, because unlike Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus himself, we live in the knowledge and light of Christ’s own resurrection, and so we hold with confidence the truth in the most difficult times, that death is not the end and that love will always triumph in this world and the next.
So now, at this time of change and limitations, there are, strangely, new opportunities. As we refocus on what is important, we can learn from these changes rather than fighting them or resenting them, asking God to support and help us by his spirit, and choosing to pour our energies into loving our neighbours and our world. In the tending of a garden, or the painting of our house, or the knitting of another scarf, let us beautify the world, and celebrate what we have. In our reading and in our watching habits, let us focus and spend time on what is life giving and joy giving. For those of us who are able to leave our houses, let us do our shopping and our exercising and our giving with gratitude and generous hearts. In our prayers, let us not forget one another, but hold up to God the suffering of the world for his redemption.
This time will pass, just as Lazarus’ time in the tomb passed, and he was brought once more into the light. We will look back, and recognise God was with us all along. We will find surprising glimmers of his glory in the most unexpected places and situations. Christ is the pattern for our lives. We will, just as Jesus did, grieve. And we will, just like Jesus did, overcome.
May God bless you and keep you safe, comforted and blessed this Passiontide.