Personally, I have two favorite bible verses that I would like to share with you. Through the years, I have found that these two verses have the ability to either give me goosebumps or make me to tear up, or actually sometimes, cause me to do both.
The first of the two we heard last year, year “C” in our Episcopal Lectionary. The verse comes from Luke in his account of the Passion of Christ. Two thieves are being crucified next to Jesus, one on his left and one on his right. In the Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as the Acts of Pilate, they are actually named. Gesmas mocks Jesus, saying if you are the Messiah save yourself and us. Dismas who is called the penitent thief rebukes Gesmas asking him if he doesn’t fear God, and tells him that even though Jesus has done nothing wrong, he is being sentenced to the same cruel death that they have justly received for the crimes they have committed.
Then Dismas says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answers him. Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The second favorite is from our gospel reading today. In this reading from John, Jesus has gotten word that his good friend Lazarus is gravely ill, and his sisters Mary and Martha are wanting him to come to Bethany to make Lazarus well. But, Jesus intentionally waits several days before going. He comes upon Martha on the road as he and those traveling with him make their way toward Bethany. Martha is deeply grieved and unhappy with Jesus telling him if he would have come sooner, he could have saved Lazarus. But Jesus has in fact waited for Lazarus to die and be sealed in the tomb for 4 days because the Jews believed that the soul finally departed the body after 3 days. Knowing that he would raise him up, Jesus needed to be sure that there would be no question that Lazarus was indeed dead.
After meeting Jesus on the road, Martha then returns to the house to tell Mary that he has finally arrived, and Mary goes out to meet Jesus. Mary is also so stricken with terrible grief and reiterates that if he had come more quickly, he could have saved their brother. I am sure that both sisters are devastated that Jesus did not see fit to arrive earlier.
Now, though, at seeing Mary, feeling her pain and the sorrow of all of those gathered to mourn Lazarus, and suffering his own grief at the loss of his dear friend, we have my second favorite verse, also known as the shortest verse in the King James Version of the bible. Two simple words. “Jesus wept”.
It had not occurred to me until preparing this sermon today that the two bible verses that are such emotional triggers for me, while they are many things in themselves, the two together actually define the nature and the very essence of Jesus’ life on earth.
Sometime it is hard for me to remember that God sent Jesus into the world as a human. It is hard to remember that during his time here on earth, he was not totally divine and was not as part of the Holy Trinity sitting at the right hand of God. Rather he was among the people as one of them. He was a person just like you and I have come into this world. We don’t know much about Jesus’ life as a youngster or teenager or even a young man. It was most likely a time of growing up like other Jewish boys his age. How does he come to realize who he is and what that means for him and his life? It is a big question mark.
Several years ago one of my nieces actually sent me a book written by Christopher Moore, a rather satirically styled book called Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff. It’s a fictional story told by Biff, Jesus’ teenage buddy. It’s a wild and crazy tale full of adventure, but it does serve to make you think about what Jesus’ life might have been like during his teenage years.
But from his first miracle at the wedding of Cana, when his mother Mary actually has to prompt him to do something about the fact that the wine has run out, he has been coming to understand his role in the Godhead Trinity. Repeatedly Jesus talks about the power of healing coming from his Father in heaven not from himself. In today’s gospel reading, he thanks his Father for listening to his desire to raise Lazarus from the dead and giving him the power to do so.
Earlier in his gospel John has talked about that power of Jesus given him by his Father. I quote, “Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes….Very truly I tell you, the hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself….Do not be astonished at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out….”
As we heard Jesus say to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and he who lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Mary replies, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah who is sent by God who is to come into the world.”
It is of interest to note that the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke do not mention raising Lazarus from the dead. Why have they omitted the story? There are differing opinions, but one is that they were trying to protect Lazarus who still may have been alive at the time their accounts were written. The Gospel of John was written at a later date, possibly after Lazarus had already died so there would not have been any adverse notoriety for Lazarus.
Instead these gospels use the story of Jesus angrily overturning money changing tables, while calling the Temple, “my house”. In any case, both events, Lazarus being brought back from clearly being dead and the cleansing of the Temple were very public and served as the catalyst for igniting the chief priests’ desire to put Jesus to death for blasphemy.
So, what do these two bible verses have in common?
Jesus wept because he was human. His heart ached because he had to wait to let his good friend die. And, he knew that it was necessary to let Mary and Martha and all who knew and loved Lazarus suffer the terrible pain we all feel when we lose someone we love. Even with his own sorrow and pain, he knew that that this must happen, so that when he called Lazarus to rise up and walk out of the tomb, out of death into life, he would be recognized for who he was, truly the Son of God. In addition, he knew that this would trigger his own arrest, crucifixion, and death.
Throughout the New Testament, we have been bystanders in witnessing the events history shares with us in the life of this man we call Jesus. We have been in the stable in Bethlehem at his birth. We glimpsed him teaching in the temple when he was a boy of 12 or thereabouts. We were with him when he was baptized in the river Jordan. We heard Satan tempt him in the desert. We followed him as he recruited his disciples as pupils and later taught them to become apostles to go out into the world and teach the Good News. We were there with the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount. We saw him perform many miracles. We were there listening to the cheers when he rode his donkey over the palm branches into Jerusalem. Just days later we were at table with him at the Last Supper. We agonized with him in the Garden of Gethsemane as we, like Jesus, knew the pain he would suffer and wished there was a way to spare him, but knew that pain and death must happen to fulfill God’s plan. And, we were there with his mother Mary, Mary Madeline, and his faithful John as Jesus was nailed to the cross.
And then we heard Dismas ask Jesus to remember him…. and we heard Jesus tell him that very day he would be with him in paradise. We as believers will share in that resurrection story.
We have followed our Savior throughout his life, from human to the Christ. This is the transition that give us all hope for the future…. that we also can follow him from this human life on earth to that eternal life, that paradise in God’s Kingdom.
I leave you with a quote from Revelation that just happened to turn up in my meditation reading the day I started writing this sermon. I continue to call such events “God moments”.
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”