Readings: EZEKIEL 37:1-14;  PSALM 130;  ROMANS 8:6-11;  JOHN 11:1-45

What a year we’ve had in the last week!” wrote someone online.  Another quipped that this is the Lentiest Lent they had ever Lented.  Each day we wake up to yet more restrictions and sad statistics.  Imagine little Italy for example – you could fit three of them in BC, but they have 60 million citizens, 900 of whom died of Covid 19 just last Thursday alone.   At the same time there are various silver linings to this difficult situation.  With humans driving and flying less, the earth is healing.  And in so many individual circumstances, people are being resourceful and generous in their compassionate response to this crisis.   Many people also now have time to do the things they didn’t have time for before.  Here’s a related saying that are among those I posted on our parish Facebook page: ‘In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.’ (Dave Hollis)                

At various stages of life we are often busy, rushing and never quite catching up.  I’m among those who’s often been borderline late, especially during my more active work life – always trying to squeeze in one more thing in the ten minutes I think I have left before leaving for that meeting.  For those in retirement there’s usually less rushing around.  But Jesus is not retired in the three years of ministry we mostly hear about in the gospels.  Right after being baptized by John the Baptist, he gets down to work, healing people and uplifting them with his teachings about God’s love and forgiveness.  He also points out serious flaws in the way that the wealthy oppress the poor, or the way the Pharisees fuss about details of the law instead of doing the bigger justice and mercy things at the heart of those laws.                

In today’s gospel about the raising of Lazarus from the dead though, it’s not because his agenda is jam-packed that Jesus is seemingly late - for a very important date.   From all accounts it sounds like these three siblings were close friends of Jesus, and they all spent a lot of time together.  So Martha and Mary sent Jesus this message:  “Lord, he whom you love is ill” … thinking, assuming that Jesus would rush right over to heal their brother.  How strange then to hear that he chose to stay “two days longer in the place where he was” … as though he was deliberately stalling.  Is this callous indifference on Jesus’ part?  On the contrary, once he gets there and is told that Lazarus has died, we have that amazing report that Jesus wept (John 11:35).  Our NRSV version says that “Jesus began to weep” but in some older versions using “Jesus wept” -- this is also the shortest verse in the Bible.  If this were the Muslim Qur’an where verses are arranged shortest to longest, this then would also be the first verse in the Bible.                

Jesus wept -- such an important verse for all those times when we wonder where is God in various situations of human suffering.  Where was God when this terrible thing happened, or that one?  God was weeping with us.  Does that mean that God did not have the power to stop the suffering?  Oh dear, questions of theodicy, of why does God permit evil, are so difficult.  I’m sure that God’s desire is always for our wellbeing, but God also gave us free will, so when humans choose evil, God does not take back that gift of free will.   And of course the Creator God also set things in motion in nature or creation … and when humans exploit or abuse nature, then calamities are bound to occur.  Jesus wept, and I believe that God still weeps to see us abusing the earth God made as our home, and the many other creatures God also made – both human and non-human – to be our companions, and to share in the sustenance that the earth was meant to give us. 

Thankfully many people are putting forward both humour and wisdom, especially online – if you are not on Facebook, this might be a time to consider this means of greatly increasing your ways of making connections.  Among the many treasures I have found there recently was this article on six lessons to learn from Coronavirus - shared by the worldwide Green Anglicans group:  1) Science matters. 2) How we treat the natural world affects our wellbeing. 3) The sooner we mobilize for action, the less suffering will take place. 4) We have the ability to make drastic changes very quickly. 5) All of us are vulnerable to crisis, though unequally. 6) Holding on to a vision of a just, peaceful Earth will give us strength for the future.                

Facebook takes us from the serious to the silly: “I’m so excited it’s time to take the garbage out.  I wonder what I should wear.”  Indeed it’s only now that we begin to realize the pleasure, joy and freedom of so many ordinary outings and events.  After this many days mostly ‘stuck’ at home, we may feel like the dry bones we heard about from Ezekiel, but God can breathe new life into the dryness of our existence.  Indeed it’s so encouraging to hear of many online stories of how people are not only coping, but also thriving under the circumstances.  “ As we step into the unknown, we can be fragile and strong and terrified and brave all at the same time.” (Paul S. Boyton).  From our Christian point of view there’s a lot of evidence out there of God bringing forth much goodness out of the devastation we hear so much about.  Let me end with these thoughts adapted from the writings of C.S. Lewis in 1942:  

Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”  

Jesus: “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.  

So we know who’s in charge.  On some of these quiet social-distancing days, we might feel like we’re in some kind of tomb, like Lazarus.  We may grieve for the loss of the life we knew before this calamity struck.  But the darkness is already so filled with signs of increasing light, as God’s love triumphs over the evil of illness and despair, Amen.