Sermon Text: John 11: 1-45
Have you been to the grocery store lately? It totally has this otherworldly feel to it right now, doesn’t it? For me, the awkwardness at the grocery store can best be compared to a viewing at a funeral home. There is tension in the air, people are acting strangely, nobody knows what to say, and everyone is operating with the knowledge that something is very different in this moment.
I went to Martin’s on Thursday and that feeling was apparent from the very first moment I entered those sliding glass doors. The sanitation wipe trash can for the shopping carts was brimming over, signs directed you to maintain a distance of six feet from other customers, some shoppers were wearing gloves, others masks, there were lines on the floor instructing you were to stand at the register, and giant plexiglass barriers attempted to separate you from the cashier. Not to mention that I had two weeks’ worth of food in my cart when my normal trip to the store is done with only a hand basket, buying enough food for the next two or three days.
The whole experience felt foreign. It was stressful. I won’t lie, I could feel my jaw and shoulders tensing due to the differing circumstances. The whole world kind of has that vibe right now, from stores to the sidewalks, as we try our best to cope with life in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic.
I wonder if that’s how the village of Bethany felt when Jesus and his disciples came into town? The town was in mourning because of Lazarus’ death. His life had stopped and that community was grieving. Life was disrupted in the stark way that only comes during and untimely death.
Tragedy often comes with staggering suddenness, and when it arrives, we are left picking up the pieces. That’s where Jesus faithfully enters into the situation. That is when he steps into town and forces the community to face reality so that he may then bring his life-giving grace.
We see this most clearly in the Gospel with Martha and Mary. Both of them say the same phrase when they meet Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Immediately they name the reality that is causing them to mourn. The name the emotions of the whole community as they grieve Lazarus’ death. His life has been replaced by tears, wailing, grief, and the stench of decay.
But Jesus enters into the scene, bringing his life-giving grace. Jesus will reveal a glimpse of the upcoming Good Friday and Easter promise by bringing life out of death, by showing the true love of the Messiah. Jesus will be so greatly disturbed by the forces of death and destruction that he will order the stone to be moved away so that he can reveal the depth of his care.
In the Gospel Jesus rolls away the stone of death that covers Lazarus. What stones cover us right now that need to be rolled away? COVID-19 has covered us with a variety of stones that bring about a feeling of death and loss.
We have all experienced stones of anxiety as we worry and wait. Unlike a flood or tornado, this disaster is lingering and building up slowly. It is a prolonged disaster that we have endured for many days and that will last for many more.
There are stones of panic, loneliness, and disrupted plans. Can you imagine being a senor in high school or college right now, to miss out on your capstone experiences? There’s the stone of economic hardship as businesses close, unemployment rises, and stock markets swing. Social stones cover us as we lament the loss of seeing friends at school, at restaurants, at church, and all the other places where we gather regularly. And of course, there’s the original stone, the one that Lazarus felt, the reality of sickness and death, one that we are reminded of every day as we see statistics and pictures on the news.
Today we are reminded that Jesus walks into those spaces and situations. He commands those stones to be rolled away. Jesus brings the healing and consoling presence of the Divine into our distraught community, names the realities we face, and then brings new life.
This week, our Director of Youth Ministry, Ryan Custead, produced a video for our youth. You can find it on Facebook and YouTube, and I commend it too all of you, all ages, because it is phenomenal and hilarious. At the end of the video Ryan quotes Mr. Rogers, who was quoting his mother. Here’s the full quote from the interview Mr. Roger’s gave:
“Always look for the helpers. Even on the sidelines. Anybody who is going into a place of tragedy. Wherever there are helpers there is sure to be hope.”
That is what Jesus did as he brought hope to Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and the people at Bethany. And now, we are fortunate to have helpers all over who bring hope and roll away the stones that cover us. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, paramedics, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, scientists, people who are staying home, and all the many, many other helpers who are courageously taking on the problems of COVID-19.
God is sending us helpers. Hope abounds. And the grace of the gospel abounds for Jesus will continue to be present in our lives—there is no stone, no circumstance, no emotion, no obstacle that will keep him from delivering God’s life-changing grace and love to us. AMEN