Death is not pretty. It might come suddenly or slowly, it might be long expected or a surprise, it might be painful or peaceful. We might say we wish we could have had a few more days, a few more years, “Oh, why couldn’t she have had a few more decades?” Or we might say, “God, why did he have to linger for so long? Death snatches away our loved ones, leaves gaping holes where they once were.
Among the pagan tribes and peoples that lived around ancient Israel, there was a god of death, named Mot. Mot was the great swallower, the great devourer. Mot would swallow up your children. Mot would swallow up your parents. Mot would swallow up your dreams, your days. Mot would swallow up the light. Mot had a mouth as wide as the horizon that opened as high as the sky. Mot would swallow up earth and heaven.
Some of us may feel like our loved ones have been swallowed up. JD, Elga, Tom, Loren, Matthew, Doris, Herb. Some of us may feel like our dreams have been devoured. We may have wished for a healthy romance and it’s just not happening yet. Mot might have swallowed our health. Our bones hurt, our organs don’t work right. Some of us may feel like, after a whole lifetime, twelve whole years, of being a kid, we are big and gangly and uncomfortable with our bodies and we don’t know whether we fit in and the kids a school can be vicious, or, a few years later, we look out on a world that is supposed to be a great adventure laid out before us to explore. But that world doesn’t always feel like adventure. Sometimes it feels more like a burden. Mot has swallowed our carefree days.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Mot has swallowed Lazarus. He is dead. His heart has stopped. His brainwaves have ceased to register. The first thing Martha says when Jesus finally shows up on the scene is “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary says the same thing in our Gospel lesson. She falls down at his feet. Not just to her knees. This is desperation. Down, at his feet she goes. She says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Notice what Jesus does. He does not argue with her, “No, no, Lazarus is in heaven and you will see him there.” Not yet. Instead, Jesus looks around. He sees the people weeping. If you want to be a part of God changing the world, of the cross and resurrection bringing healing to the world, the first thing you do is look around. The first thing you do is listen to the ways in which people are weeping.
Jesus says, “Where have you laid him?” Mary says “Come and see.”
Then Jesus weeps. Jesus knows that Lazarus is going to be up and walking around in fifteen minutes, and yet he still weeps because he knows, he can see how death tears us human beings.
If you want to be a part of Jesus working in the world, Jesus working among people, you weep with them.
Jesus goes to the tomb. He says “Roll away the stone.” Martha, ever the practical one, says “It’s been four days, Jesus, it’s gonna stink.”
I think a lot of times, we are stuck in our own tombs. Tombs made of addiction, tombs made of hurt, tombs made of fear, tombs made of cynicism, tombs made of despair, of self-loathing, of bitterness, of a sense of helplessness and apathy. Jesus says “Roll away that stone.”
We say “it’s gonna stink.” Well of course it’s gonna stink, it‘s a tomb.
Jesus says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that you would see the glory of God?” Now he challenges her, he argues with her. Now he argues with us. “Did I not tell you that you would see the glory of God?”
Are you willing to hope?
This is maybe the craziest place in this story. It certainly is one of the biggest miracles. These people are insane enough to roll that stone away. Are we willing to let God help us roll away that stone?
Jews cries, “Lazarus, come out.”
Jesus cries to us, to come out of our tombs, of addiction, bitterness, fear, cynicism, despair, self-loathing, helplessness. Someday Jesus will call JD and Elga and Tom and Loren and Matthew and Doris and Herb out: JD, come out, Elga, come out, Tom, come out, Matthew, come out, Doris, come out, Herb come out. Jesus will call you and me from the grave, by name.
Here comes Lazarus, all bound up in his grave clothes. Jesus says to the others, “unbind him, and let him go.” We may be coming out of our addiction, our bitterness, fear, cynicism, despair, self-loathing, helplessness, and Jesus calls us to untie each other, unbind each other.
On this mountain, this mountain right here, the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. God will swallow up death forever.” God has swallowed the great swallower. The devourer has been devoured.
He will wipe away the tears from all faces, death shall be no more, crying and pain and grief shall be no more, says Revelation in our second lesson for today. Why? Because it is the nature of God to make all things new. “Behold, I make all things new!”
Yes, death is ugly and brutal. The great swallower. But the great swallower is swallowed. The devourer is devoured.
Are we willing to roll away the stone? Are we willing to hope? God gives us the strength to roll away the stone, to tear the grave clothes off of each other, to hope. Because this is the way God is, God makes all things new.