Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Lazarus, Come Out!

Sermon on John 11:1-45

Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.

That’s a refrain that we hear not once but twice in this story, from both Mary and Martha. It’s a cry of pain, of mourning, regret, frustration, anger. It may or may not be true—we just don’t know. But it’s also the type of lament that we are hearing and will continue to hear in the weeks and months to come. So many of us will be confronting death in the same way that Martha and Mary do.

We are confronted today with the unknown. Unknown choices. Unknown outcomes. The would haves, could haves, and should haves.

Death robs us of so many things. And it’s not just physical death. So much that brings us joy in our lives, big and small, is being torn from us: job opportunities, celebrations like graduations, the closures of our favorite shops and restaurants, trip cancellations, and on and on. Even the things that we take for granted—like face-to-face contact, a touch, a hug—have been stolen from us.

And of course, the stories are coming from the hot zones: overwhelmed hospitals, desperate medical workers, people dying alone. We wonder how long it will be before that is our reality, too.

Lord, if you had just been there . . .

It’s a totally valid thing to say. As we look at what is going on around us and we look into this uncertain, scary future, it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to scream and cry and yell. As the psalm says today: “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.”

And in the midst of all of this, just like he did with Martha and Mary, Jesus will meet us wherever we are. He will sit with us in all our grief and fear and pain. He will weep with us, cry with us, yell and scream with us.

I think some people in our story today misinterpreted what Jesus was doing. They saw his tears as a sign of weakness or surrender. And the people began to question God’s power—why are we wasting our time?

So Jesus raises Lazarus as a demonstration that this suffering is not in vain. He didn’t do it to erase the past or gloss over grief and pain. No, it was by dwelling in the anguish of his dearest friends that he transforms death into life. And Jesus did that so that we might see for ourselves that death is not the final word; there is hope beyond the cross; there is life beyond the tomb.

“Lazarus, come out” is a rallying cry. It’s a call to defiance, to show resolve in the face of death. It is one that our spiritual ancestors bore in the face of suffering, and one that we carry on in the face of this new challenge. With faith and hope, we show a similar resolve; what we do and what we believe is not in vain.

Jesus weeps, but Jesus rejoices too because, in this very moment, we are called out of the tomb, unbound, and set free.