In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lent can be one of the times of the Christian year that, I think, tends to make the most sense to many of us. During the rest of the year we’re asked to celebrate or to hear about miracles, and it just doesn’t always make sense. But during Lent, we’re asked to move into a deeper understanding of suffering, of the darkness that can so often envelop us.
That makes sense.
We’ve all been there. Even - maybe especially - if we find ourselves somehow forgetting celebration and joy now and then, most of us can always identify with suffering.
Lent can sometimes feel like falling into a large, overstuffed chair - not exactly “comfortable”, per se, but secure, surrounded, understood.
A few years ago, I had to the good fortune to study the words of the gospel lesson appointed for today on Monday in Holy Week while traveling through Jerusalem. In the chronology of John’s account of the life of Jesus, the story of Lazarus comes just before Jesus heads into his suffering and death in Jerusalem. We all know how everything progresses, but the lesson today tells us that his disciples must have begun to get the hint also: “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” says Andrew, almost snidely. The story of Lazarus stands as a kind of foreshadowing of how the story of Jesus would unfold in Jerusalem, and the disciples seemed to think they could see it coming.
The suffering and the death seem to have loomed like writing on the wall, but I don’t think the disciples could have imagined what they would find. I always find myself a little surprised by what I find in this gospel lesson, too.
Death is expected. We all die. But life bursting through the bonds of death? No one could have seen that coming.
But truth be told, that’s not even what really surprises me when I hear these words. The thing that never fails to take my breath away is the way Jesus’ humanity breaks through his divinity so clearly in this passage. It’s probably some kind of heresy to say so, but I’m always so much more impressed by Jesus’ humanity than by his divinity. We’ve all heard the words of the doctrine - fully God and fully human. But it’s the human part that makes me a Christian. And I think it’s the human part that can set our faith apart from all of the other pursuits of spirituality in its many forms and understandings.
There are countless ways to interact with God.
While I was bed-bound over the past few weeks I watched a lot of movies. One of the last ones was “Eat, Pray, Love”. The main character, played by Julia Roberts, sets out on a yearlong expedition to find something that seems lost in her life. She begins with four months in Italy for a little “self-care therapy”. She makes friends, she learns the language, she eats decadent food and drinks in the wine and the culture. Then for the next eight months she visits India and Bali to practice Eastern spirituality - a stark contrast from the decadence she had come to love. There’s no question that she finds some understanding of God in that process. But in each of her destinations, it’s not the “spirituality” that helps her to really find what she’s looking for. Instead, it’s the relationships that she forms. It’s the love that she encounters. In short, it’s the humanity. The spirituality certainly helps her to be more open to those beautiful things in life, but she can’t really grasp them until the deeper truths of spirituality are uncovered through her relationships.
It’s always humbling when I remember that about this faith of ours: that God does not just work from the great beyond - whatever that may be - but that God works through people. People just like us. The creator needs the created. And it’s through our encounters with Jesus that this becomes most clear.
Through so many of the stories of our faith we forget that. We spend our time in awe of Christ, our Lord at the expense of really embracing and understanding the humility and the humanity of Jesus, our brother.
If all you remember from the story of Lazarus is that Christ brought him back to life, you’re really missing something. Jesus was not JUST God. Jesus was a human being. He was a part of a community. And when encountering the suffering of one of his own, he suffered, too.
“Jesus began to weep.”
The whole experience was a lesson for Mary and Martha and all the community - Jesus is always a teacher. The raising of Lazarus was a miracle, certainly. That divine essence is recounted time and again through the gospels. But beneath the teacher and the miracle worker is something more. Something we too often forget. Something human.
And though we rarely think about it in exactly this way, perhaps that’s why Lent can make such sense to so many of us. Lessons are often lost on our feeble attempts at understanding and the kinds of miracles we read about seem too outrageous to fully wrap our minds around the concepts. But humanity is real. We have no doubt.
It’s that humanity that connects us to God.
It has been a great sadness for me to have missed so much of this Lenten journey with you in the way that I’d imagined we would share it. But unfortunately, my own humanity got in the way for a little while. But I’m glad to be back with you - my community - as we take these final steps through the wilderness on the road to resurrection.
We’re getting close now. Bethany is just two miles away. Jerusalem is just over the next hill.
These last steps will long and tiring, but together, we can make it. Together, our community is stronger than anyone’s humble humanity.
On we go. Amen.