Preaching on the All Saints gospel from John (11:32-44–the raising of Lazarus) was a different experience this year–because of the settings? recent experiences? new perspectives? Probably “yes” to all. In the middle, the muddle and the mess of all the rapid change that surrounds us, I became keenly aware of the reactions to change among the personalities in that text.
Mary, Martha and even their neighbors have faith in Jesus’ power–to a point. “If you had been here . . . .” “Could not [Jesus] . . . have kept this man from dying?” Their trust will take them to the edge of their understanding. They know healing can happen. But they also know that death is final. And what they know limits what they’ll believe. When Jesus asks that the tomb’s stone be removed, Martha objects to him venturing into a dead end–and a smelly one, at that. No doubt her sister and neighbors were feeling the same.
But then the stone is removed and Jesus calls out to the only one whose faith isn’t limited by what he knows–Lazarus, the one beyond knowing, beyond help, beyond hope. And unlimited by what he knows, Lazarus simply hears. And life happens. Yet those who know that this can’t possibly happen are so upset that they begin to plot Jesus’ death. When Jesus refuses to fit their faith, their solution isn’t to broaden their faith–it’s to eliminate Jesus.
How much of what we know–particularly of God’s will for us and for God’s mission in the world–limits what God can be up to? How often do we stand near our expectations of what Church is and lament those expectations’ apparent bondage to death, unwilling to endure the stink of letting those expectations and desires die? How much of what we know God wants the Church to look like limits the liberating faith that could let us respond, like Lazarus, to Jesus’ call? What are we willing to let die so that we, as the Body of Christ, might truly live?
I won’t pretend to offer answers to these questions–frankly, I’m a little uncomfortable with my own answers to them. I know how God would like the Church to be, if only God had the benefit of my experiences and opinions. I’m also aware that too often, my invitation to “Come and See” mimics that of the crowds at Lazarus’ tomb–it’s a mockery, an invitation to a dead end.
I pray God might grant me the faith instead to make my “Come and See” the invitation to life, possibility and change, as it is every other time it’s extended in John’s gospel. And that I might die to the temptation to limit my believing to the bounds of my knowing–to shrink Jesus’ power to the size of my understanding.