Inspired by John 11:28-44 as found in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W
Do you believe in miracles? A line from one of my favorite songs goes, “I don't believe in miracles, and they happen every day. I don't believe in Jesus, but I'm praying anyway.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of expressing this disconnect between faith and reality, between what we want to believe and what we can see. If you ask me if I believe in miracles, well, probably like the writer of that song, my answer would depend on the day, or my well-being, or some other factor. But what is a miracle anyway? How do we even define a miracle? Is it always something supernatural? Is it always something unexpected? Is it always something positive? Is it always of divine origin? Are miracles objectively true, or are miracles in the eyes of the beholders? As you can see, it isn’t easy to define what a miracle is.
What intrigues me about the story that we read from the Gospel of John, is that the actual miracle, the raising of Lazarus, ends up being a very small part of the story. The reality turns out to be, that what we witness in the raising of Lazarus, is what has already happened throughout the story to all the other characters. It really is masterful storytelling on the part of our author. So, let’s dive a little deeper to see what I’m talking about here. We started this story last week, and in the first half of this story, the focus is on Martha. Martha enters this story upset, and not just over her dead brother. She enters this story in a state of disillusionment over what she sees as either a failure of Jesus’, or of God, as she had known God. “If YOU had been here my brother would have never died!”
I imagine her pointing an accusatory finger in Jesus’ face, yelling through tear-filled sobs. Jesus simply says, “Your brother will rise.” “I know, [she probably said annoyedly], I know that he’ll [eventually] rise in the resurrection on the last day.” As if to say, my brother just died, Jesus, I’m not in the mood for a Sunday school lesson. Or I guess it would be a Sabbath school lesson back then? Anyway, without missing a beat, Jesus looks her in the eye and says, “I am the resurrection!” As if to say, “Now, here, right before your eyes, Martha! It’s happening inside you, in this very conversation!” Because she responded with, “I believe you are the messiah, the Son of God.” You see, in that conversation with Jesus, surrounding the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, not only are Martha’s spirits raised, but her perspective of Jesus is raised.
The “miracle” hasn’t even happened yet, and yet I can safely say that from that conversation forward, Martha never looked at Jesus the same way again. I assure you, after that conversation, he was no longer just “Rabbi” to her. She had been raised. But that was last week, in today’s story the focus moves to her sister Mary, who was not there to hear this conversation. Martha goes back home and tells Mary that Jesus is waiting for her nearby. Mary goes to meet him, and she too is upset with Jesus. She says the same thing that Martha did, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The first time was bad enough but twice? Now Jesus was walking around with two daggers sticking out of his heart! Which might be why, he weeps with her.
And yet, that is exactly what Martha, and now Mary, do with Jesus. And sure, he cried a bit about it, but I can’t help but believe that this exchange between them strengthened their relationship. This exchange of erupting emotions, this exchange of piercing words, this exchange of tears between two people, one of whom just happens to be the Messiah, raised both their hearts and minds, allowing them to see each other in a way they had not before. So now Mary is raised, and the “miracle” has still yet to happen. So now Jesus is raised, into this deeper relationship with his friends Martha and Mary. Do you remember that first time you argued and/or cried with a friend of yours? You’re never the same after that, are you? And often in a good way. Neither were they. They had been raised. And then we have the famous miracle of the raising of Lazarus.
It gets a whopping one verse at the end of this story, which begs the question, is this thee miracle of this story? Because it almost reads as the backdrop, to a more profound lesson that our author is trying to highlight for us, that miracles happen all around, us all the time, if we define them appropriately. Likewise, resurrections happen all around us, all the time, if we define them appropriately. To use a recent example from my own life, my youngest daughter Jesha was in the hospital all last week. She was fighting a mysterious bacterial infection that caused a painful abscess to form on the side of her throat. She had to have emergency surgery at one point to drain the abscess but she came out fine and is all better. Now, I think most people, especially those praying for her healing, would consider that the miracle here.
But another part of that week tells a different story. You see, my wife Sara was in LA on business, and I don’t think either of us expected her to rush home for this. Maybe we were in denial as to how serious this was, which is pretty common with people and their families in the hospital, but we assured her that we would be fine. So, there we were, Jesha and I, together for 10-12 hours a day, in the hospital, caring for each other, in what turned out to be quite a horrifying experience. But the emphasis I would put on all of that is, together. In our little half of that cramped hospital room, we talked, as much as she could, we laughed, as much as she could, we cried, we slept, we watched our beloved Oakland A’s get their butts kicked every day, and then we left, but most importantly, we did not leave the same father and daughter that we walked in as a week prior.
My friends, every time a relationship is deepened, no matter how painful the experience might be, you both risen.
Every time a relationship is strengthened, we risen.
Every time comfort is given, you all are risen!
Every time understanding is achieved, y’all are risen!
Every time forgiveness is given, y’all are risen!
Every time you are vulnerable with another, y’all are risen!
Every time you see more clearly, feel more deeply, love more unconditionally, y’all are risen!
Every time you experience selflessness, y’all are risen!
Every time you are valued and appreciated, y’all are risen!
So, I guess I believe in miracles after all.
I hope you do too.