yrieithydd: (Easter)
[personal profile] yrieithydd

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight o Lord our Rock and our Redeemer

Martha and Mary are grieving. Their brother Lazarus is dead and they buried him 4 days ago. They’d sent a message to their friend Jesus to tell him of their brother’s illness. He’d healed the lame and made the blind see and he was their friend. Surely he could have done something. But days had passed and Jesus had not come and now Lazarus was dead and buried. And they and their friends were mourning.

A sudden death is hard. As many of you will know, my father died suddenly last year. He just collapsed one evening and although the medics got his heart started again eventually, he just wasn’t there any more and a week later he died. Remembering those days, I can empathise with Martha and Mary as they each individually greet their friend Jesus, when he eventually arrives, with: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.

In the rawness of grief, we want to blame someone; we think if only something had been different this would not have happened. And Jesus isn’t just anyone, he’s the one who “opened the eyes of the blind man”. The sisters sent for him and he’s taken what feels like an age to get to them. If we had started the reading tonight at the start of the chapter, we would have heard how Jesus had got the message about his friend’s illness but stayed where he was for two days. No wonder the sisters think he should have been there. But he waited 2 days and Lazarus has been dead for 4 days, so, even had Jesus come immediately, Lazarus would still have been dead already.

When he arrives, Martha rushes out to greet him while Mary stays in the house weeping. Martha cries out “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”; she doesn’t stop there, she continues “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” showing her faith even in the midst of her grief.

Martha’s faith comes through strongly here. Because of the account in St Luke’s Gospel of her asking Jesus to rebuke her sister Mary for sitting at his feet instead of helping her serve, we tend to think of Martha as the practical one and Mary as the spiritual one, but this exchange shows that this dichotomy is too simple. Martha here makes a profession of faith both in the Resurrection of the Dead, a controversial question within Judaism at the time, and in Jesus himself.

The Old Testament speaks with many voices on Resurrection. For example, our Old Testament reading tonight had little sense of Resurrection. Hezekiah, in giving thanks for his recovery from serious illness declared:
For Sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you;

those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.

The living, the living, they thank you, as I do this day;

fathers make known to children your faithfulness.

Here it is the living who matter for they, unlike those in Sheol, can praise God.

But there are other passages, such as the dry bones in Ezekiel, which suggest bodily resurrection at the last day. By Jesus’ day, the Sadducees rejected Resurrection while the Pharisees proclaimed it.

So Martha, in answering Jesus’ statement “your brother will rise again” with “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” she is making a strong statement of faith in the midst of her grief. Jesus then declares “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and Martha responds by expressing her faith in him as Messiah.

She then runs to her sister and tells her of Jesus’ arrival. Mary runs to him followed by the mourners and throws herself weeping at Jesus's feet and she too cries out “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Her grief and that of her fellow mourners affects Jesus and he is deeply moved. He asks to be shown the tomb and he himself begins to weep.

At the tomb, he prays to his Father and then orders Lazarus to come out and, when the dead man, well the risen man, appears, Jesus orders them to unbind him & let him go.

Martha’s faith that Jesus could still act is vindicated. But what does it mean for us today?

Even with modern medical technology, my father died, and yet, I want to declare with Martha my faith that he will rise again on the last day. Martha and Mary were faithful Jews, used to hearing the scriptures in the synagogue and to praying and they knew the incarnate Jesus; talked with him, ate with him. These nurtured their faith and enabled Martha to confess both her beilef in the Resurrection on the last day and her faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

And so for me. It was my faith, and the community’s faith, that enabled me to face those days last year. A faith nurtured within the Christian community, by prayer, reading and studying the scriptures, receiving the sacraments. Some people were surprised mum and I got to my parents' church, my old church, on the Sunday after dad collapsed. But where else would we go? There was no visiting in the morning. And as well as turning to God in prayer ourselves, it was good to meet in prayer with others especially people who knew dad. A community mourned with Mary and Martha and a community mourned with us. That helped keep the hope of the resurrection alive for us.

Belief in resurrection does not wipe out grief - Martha expresses both her grief and her belief and Jesus weeps and is greatly disturbed even though he knows he is about to call Lazarus out from the tomb. And so we grieve and weep with those who weep and remember that grief does not pass quickly and can lead to depression. But in the midst of our grief, we have the hope of resurrection. In the words of Orthodox Contakion for the Dead “weeping o’er the grave we make our song: Alleluya, alleluya, alleluya”.
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