Monday: Saying Goodbye to Lazarus

I wonder what Jesus was thinking as he ate dinner at his friends’ house in Bethany tonight.

By candlelight he shares simple food with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, this set of siblings who love him so dearly and so differently from each other.

Mary, with her extravagant gestures and adoring heart.

Martha, whose love is made of duty and service but is fierce and bright nonetheless.

And Lazarus, quiet and steady, a man who does his job and cares for his sisters, but got sick one day when Jesus was out traveling and preaching.

Jesus and Lazarus never got to say goodbye to each other when Lazarus was dying.

They never had a conversation about whether Jesus was the Son of God.

They were just friends.

Lazarus and Jesus loved each other without having to say it, and Lazarus lay on his death bed knowing Jesus would make sure his sisters were taken care of when he died, and feeling sad he wouldn’t get to see his friend one more time.

Lazarus, a regular guy who loved his sisters and his friend, who got sick and died, and then came back from the dead because he believed.

They’re back in the same situation again.

One of them is about to die, but this time Jesus doesn’t stay away.

This time he wants to say goodbye.

They never say it in so many words, because that is not how their friendship works.

But underneath the drama of Mary’s tears and Martha’s fear, there is a bone deep knowledge that they love each other and will see each other again.

Maybe Jesus wanted to do more than say goodbye.

Maybe he needed to see Lazarus alive, talking and eating and laughing.

Yesterday, the crowd cheered for him and welcomed him as the King of Jerusalem.

They were the last kind words the city would ever give him.

The crowds would be full of mocking hatred from here on out.

At this moment, his friends are still solid around him, true and faithful and happy.

Soon the sheep will scatter as the shepherd is struck.

Jesus needs some source of strength to enter these days of terror and pain.

Maybe seeing the evidence of his own eyes that someone can die and come back to life is part of what brought him to the house in Bethany at the beginning of this week.

The words in our scripture from Isaiah fit both Jesus and Lazarus perfectly.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.”

How many of us feel like the bruised reed about to break or the dimly burning wick about to be quenched?

We take comfort from the knowledge that God will not crush us, that Jesus is strong enough to bring forth justice when we are not.

But listen closely to Isaiah again:

“A bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth.”

Jesus is the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick, and he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.

He will be pushed to his limits and far beyond this week, the limits of his body and the limits of his soul.

He will be crushed down to nothing and right in the middle of that agony have to do the greatest work of his life.

He will feel abandoned and lost and utterly out of strength and still he will overcome the darkness with his light.

Suddenly being the bruised reed or the dimly burning wick no longer means waiting around to be rescued by a powerful God.

If we are the bruised reed, we will not break, but by the power of God’s love we will act, even in our weakness, to love others.

If we are the dimly burning wick, we will not be quenched, but by the grace of God we will have faith, even through our fear and trembling, to reach out to others who are in pain.

As we read in Second Corinthians, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

Lazarus’ story is about to take a dark and fearful turn.

Our gospel today says, “So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.”

This is the last night that Jesus and Lazarus will be together.

Whatever happens next, Lazarus will have to face it on his own.

Jesus will go to the Cross and then ascend to the Father.

Scripture never tells us whether the chief priests carried out their threat.

Mary and Martha have to face the knowledge that if Lazarus is taken away and executed by the Romans, this time Jesus will not be there to raise him up.

But Lazarus believed in Jesus before he got sick and died, before he had seen any miracles, on nothing else but the strength of their love for each other.

His faith allowed him to be raised from the dead the first time.

So it is unlikely that he will doubt Jesus now.

Tonight, after supper, Jesus will leave the little house in Bethany for the last time.

Jesus will kiss Mary and Martha and there will be tears and pleading and promises of devotion, and Jesus will love them for it.

He and Lazarus will simply look at one another and know that once again, they don’t need any words.

They love each other, and their hearts are bound with a simple trust that is stronger than death.

The bruised reed and the dimly burning wick recognize each other and have faith in each other.

Jesus looks at you too with that simple trust.

Offer it back to him as you say your goodbyes to him.

Jesus and we, his friends.

We will not grow faint or be crushed until we have established justice in the earth.