In the Storm: “The Lazarus Effect”
Topic: Compassion Scripture: John 11:1–11:44
Sometimes at a funeral, a family member or a friend chooses to speak during the service to share memories. Often enough, the person slated to speak is quite nervous beforehand, and afterward, might breathe a sigh of relief, saying, “I wasn’t sure I could get through that without crying.” Sometimes, they don’t get through without crying, and that’s okay. Some of us in our growing years were taught, “Real men don’t cry.” When my dad said that to me at a tender age, I burst into tears. If we can let our feelings show, we increase the sense of sharing in grief.“Jesus wept.” We read that in John 11:35. It used to be taught to Sunday school children: this is the shortest verse in the Bible. Why did he weep? How comfortable, or uncomfortable - are we with the idea that the Son of God shed tears over this loss?
On two other occasions, scripture tells us of this emotional response. Jesus cried over Jerusalem. He grieved for the tragic history and the city’s rejection of the prophets. On the night before he died, he wept again, as he struggled with his destiny: to give his life for the world. In Gethsemane, he prayed that the cup of suffering might pass from him. He said, “Not my will but thine be done.” The stiff upper lip, the stoic refusal to show emotion, is no part of Christ’s philosophy or his personality. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
Why did he cry? At the most basic level, he felt the loss of a good friend. He had become part of the family - the three siblings and Jesus were tight. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus knew and loved him, and when the brother passed, it was only natural that he cried with the others. He also sensed the disappointment the sisters had toward him. Both in their own way said, “If only—if only you had been here.” That “if” contained a hidden rebuke: “What took you so long?” Or, “You’re too late.” That might not have brought on tears, but it contributed to the tension. Times of loss brings out the best and the not-so-best—emotions in us. Mary and Martha didn’t hold back.
The Lord demonstrated deep compassion, and his presence changed things. He had an “if” of his own for them. It’s not the “if” of regret, but the “if” of hope and possibility. “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Christ brings positive transformation. He called to Lazarus, and he calls to us.
When we find ourselves in a place of darkness, that’s our “tomb,” and the voice of the Lord beckons to us, “Come out of there.” Are we discouraged? The Lord says in a loud voice, “Come forth!” Are we worried? Christ shouts, “Roll that stone away.” Are we close to giving up? Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Follow me, and I will lead you into the light.”
I suppose Lazarus might have said, “Nope, I’m not leaving here.” He chose life.
This “from-death-life” dynamic is at the heart of Christian faith. It’s a main theme of the New Testament. “We who were dead in our sins have been raised to new life.” We who were stuck in a dark place—anger, despair, sin, addiction—have been summoned to freedom and service. Note that Jesus has an assignment for the community. “Unbind him, and let him go free.” Symbolically, it means we all have a ministry to share with those who are coming into the light. Jesus wants us to help him, help those, who are emerging from the dark, to welcome, embrace, and love them into faith.
The “loud voice” of the Lord invites and beckons Lazarus - and all people to spiritual renewal: love, joy, peace, patience, and all the fruits of the Spirit. We’re called to be people of hope. Maybe he’s calling us right now.