Faith Matters - Resurrection

How long had it been since they first heard the knock at the door-- days or weeks? Time escapes remembering when you can taste your fear. They do not answer the door. They know who it is. They know what he wants. If they ignore the stranger, perhaps he will go away. But the knocking persists and the door begins to give way. They take turns at the door, blocking it with their backs and shoulders.

At last, when they know that the caller will soon have his way in this house, they send an urgent message to their friend. A neighbor carries the plea: please come quickly, your friend is deathly ill. The plea is a prayer: come by here.  

But their last best hope of heaven and earth does not come. We understand that a doctor or a priest or a policeman might not come immediately. They have others in their care and we need to wait our turn. But we expect more from a friend -- much more.  

The door finally gives way and the unwelcome stranger makes his grim entrance to issue the summons no one refuses. The door now stands open. Who locks the house after the thief has come? The sisters learn the dull ache of a wound which does not bleed or heal. They go through the motions of what must be done, knowing a hunger that no funeral food can satisfy.  

The one for whom they had prayed finally arrives. But even before he can place his hand to the front gate she runs out to confront him. The few words that escape her lips carry pain, frustration, disappointment, anger and accusation. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”. She speaks for every one of us who has placed our shoulder against that door and waited for the knocking to stop. We forgive her in the instant because she carries water for the rest of us. We know what it is like to wait for a rescue that does not come.  

The one lately to arrive does not defend himself. He makes no excuse. He offers no explanation. He speaks no condolence. In a few simple words he tells the grieving sister that her brother’s future will not be what it appears to be right now.  

In a long ago and far away place, on a dusty road well-watered with tears, he speaks to her. They are words that frame her future, as well as the future of a dead brother, now wrapped in grave-clothes and beginning to smell to high heaven. The words are for every one of us who has stood ankle deep in tear-stained dust and ashes, wrapped in our own frail arms.  

“You don’t have to wait for the end. I am, right now, resurrection and life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”  

Now there is a question the answer upon which you stake your life. He doesn’t offer the woman a book, a philosophical treatise, an argument, a journal article, a ticket to a lecture, or an invitation to a small group meeting. He offers her a promise wrapped up in a person. Here I am, he says, I am here for you and for everyone who will take my word for it. I am the one who has come to give you permission to open the door when that knock comes. I am the one who holds the royal flush when the final cards are shown. I offer you resurrection and life, not someday but right now, not somewhere but right here, not just today but forever.  

And, God bless her, in one of the most grace-filled moments in recorded time, she says for herself and for all of us anchored in the dust of our own lives, “I believe that you are the promised one God sent to save us.”            

There were two miracles in Bethany that day. The first miracle is that Lazarus is called forth from the stench of the tomb, unbound and set free. In many ways that is the lesser miracle because he is only returned to his family for a little while. He must re-enter that tomb once again.  

But there was also that other miracle. It was the miracle when that grieving woman was given the grace to see with the eyes of faith and to embrace God’s promise of resurrection to life eternal. She is one of our mothers in the faith. Life eternal is to know God’s love in the one who arrives too late for the funeral but at the right time for the resurrection.  

We meet Mary again very soon in John’s Gospel. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are gathered for a dinner with Jesus when she takes herself off to a secret place and returns with a pound of liquid gold. The contents of that jar are her life’s savings, a year’s wages. And before God and all the people she literally lets her hair down, pours that sweet perfume on the feet of the one she loves, and wipes his feet with her hair: treasure, hair, perfume and a beauty to break the heart. The scent of the oil would sweeten the air in that house for a long, long time. The next day Jesus climbs upon the back of a donkey and rides into Jerusalem, the sweet fragrance trailing behind.  

She gives her earthly treasure to anoint his feet in this public proclamation because of what he has already given her. She received her brother back for a while; yes, of course. But the greater gift was that she knew in that holy encounter she had entered into the life eternal, she had taken hold of the gracious gift of another kind of future. She could see her whole life the way you see the ocean from the shore. She said “yes,” and in that leap of faith her future changed. In that “yes,” futures change.   Let the knock come. Her future was God.  

Let the knock come. We know who is on the other side of the door.  

God’s peace.

Chuck Johns 

By: Reverend Chuck Johns On 4/1/2009