Sermon: John 11.1-44

“Let’s make a deal, or rather, let’s make a covenant:

for I am the resurrection and the life…”

            My favourite gameshow growing up that I used to love watching on T.V. was “Let’s Make a Deal,” starring the late great Canadian born in Winnipeg – Monty Hall, who would wear I’m sure you remember these absolutely outlandish brightly coloured polyester suits that would make even the likes of say, Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati cringe…

Now perhaps the only thing more cringeworthy and outrageous on Monty’s show were all the contestants -who would dress up – , as gorillas, or jailbirds and faery godmothers and princesses and such, and they would all make these deals with the host Monty Hall, who himself, kinda acted like a little devil, by offering his contestants a choice usually involving some kind of minor prize located in a box in front of them like a couple hundred dollars or a brand new television set, or do you want to risk it all and make the proverbial “leap of faith,” by choosing to go with whatever’s behind say, door number #1?

And who knows what was lurking behind Door #1? It could be something absolutely silly like an ostrich or a goat or a bunch of matchsticks, or it could be something amazing -like a fantastic trip or a brand new car. And the show was great because it created all this incredible tension and drama, and always provoked in us the viewer, the great existential question: “Well, are you going to go for it?” Are you gonna make that “Kierkegaardian leap of faith,” into the unknown, and just trust that there is something definitely behind the curtain that’s worth making that leap?

And I think that tension and that great leap of faith that we are invited to make is what’s at the heart of our gospel story for today involving Jesus’ raising from the dead, his friend Lazarus. That we, like Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary are asked to make; because we all know that when it comes to life, and especially the hardships and challenges that we all encounter at some point in our lives, especially like the coronavirus pandemic that is confronting us unavoidably with the question of potentially our very mortality, can we assert like Martha does when Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this, Jesus asks?” (John 11.25) And Martha says that she does.

But does she really  because only a little bit later, Jesus leads Martha to the tomb where her brother Lazarus was recently laid to rest and blocking the entrance of the tomb was a great stone lying against it. And when Jesus announces that he intends to take away the stone, this is too much for Martha to bear, she hesitates in what Jesus has just told her about himself and Martha attempts to stop Jesus from opening Lazarus’ tomb by protesting: “Lord, already there is a stench because he had been dead for four days.” (John 11.39)

And yet Jesus replies to her: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God.?” Did I not tell you if you believed, you would see the glory of God?

And then after turning his eyes to the heavens and thanking God in prayer, in a loud voice, Jesus cries out: Lazarus come out! And from out of the darkness, still bound -his face, his hands and feet still wrapped in bands of cloth – out comes Lazarus!

Now what happens to Martha when confronted with Jesus, is what happens to all of us, especially when we can’t make sense of what’s happening to us in life, especially when we are visited with suffering, or with fear, or with doubts, or with death, all around us, that we can not see, but we know is there…And like Martha and Mary when confronted with these mysteries, or with these pains, we weep or we complain to God -why me, or why this? Why cancer, why divorce, why coronavirus? Why now? It is the ancient cry of the heart, just like our psalmist cries out this morning: “Out of the depths [of my heart] have I called, [have a cried] to you O Lord! Lord hear my voice!”

Hear my voice, hear my voice when I am weak, when I am not strong! And where are you O Lord in the middle of all this? – Like when Martha writes to Jesus, and for some unknown reason, Jesus takes two days longer in the place where he was before he even responds to Martha’s pleas? And in that time, when God does not feel near us -we feel abandoned, we see forsaken, where we feel like even Jesus upon the cross crying out: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Because to have faith in God in the middle of our greatest calamities, surely that is the greatest risk our faith can take is that can we, when the chips are down, can we have faith in God, to feel assured that we are still in good hands. Can we, when nothing makes sense anymore, when we approach the question of our own mortality, can we give up any further illusions that we are still in control? And Can we make this leap of faith?

Now I must confess, as a priest, I can not definitively answer this question for you, because only you can, but what I can share with you about what this leap of faith can look and feel like, comes from a story told by my favourite preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, who once told a story about a man in his old age, having watched all his friends one by one die, until it came to his turn, and the wonder was: could he set aside his worry and believe what Jesus tells us from our gospel today, that indeed he is the resurrection and the life and that if we believe in him, somehow we in fact, enter into relationship with him and into the way of eternal life that exists between God and Jesus, whatever that is, or means to you.

And so when the man came to his death, amazingly he remembered a story from his childhood growing up, where he used to go down to a river with some of the older boys and watch them swing far out over the river rapids from a rope tied to the branch of a tree that hung out over the river. And he recalled watching the boys swing out high in the air and let go of the rope, falling down through the air and disappearing into the rapids and the current of the river, only to emerge a little way further downstream, and after their heads breaking the water, they would swim back to shore, and they would say to him, okay now it’s your turn.

And at first when the man as a little boy tried, he swung out on the rope far across the river but he couldn’t let go of the rope, because he was afraid. No matter how many times he’d had watched the other boys do it, he couldn’t let go, but finally one time, he managed to, and the reason why he could he said was because of his friends.   Because They had all gone ahead of me, until finally I made up my mind that if they could do it, then so could I! And without knowing what would happen to him or whether he would make it or not, one day he just let go because he wanted to join those who had gone before him…

And like them, where he too could face the unknown, and trust that Jesus was with him because of all those who had gone ahead of him.

Because you see, as Christians, we believe, just like those boys who let go of the rope and managed to swim across the shore further downstream and would tell those still ashore, that everything would be alright, we too believe that there are those who have gone before us, those who have swam down “the river of death;” like Lazarus in our gospel, and like Jesus a little later on the cross, have come back to tell us that we are in God’s loving hands, and that there is a God who is with us, especially whenever we find ourselves in the middle of uncertainty and pain, or fear and disease.

For as St. Paul teaches us: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.38-39)

For in raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was showing to us ultimately what the glory, power, and what the grace of God looks like; the same grace that raised Jesus in turn from the dead and the same spirit as St. Paul writes that not only raised Jesus from the dead, but also promises to raise us from the dead trusting that death does not have the final word because God does! Because God is here among us, to ease our fears just like those who saw Jesus after his resurrection and who heard him talk about peace; and how it all turned out in the end that there was truly nothing to fear from the waters that we all plunge in would be fine.

So I don’t know about you, but when I think about that old gameshow Let’s make a deal, I got to tell you, when I’m given a choice between a minor prize like whatever’s in the box, or whatever’s lurking behind door #1, I’m going to go with the unknown, and the only kind of reason I can give you, is because like St. Paul, I’m confident, that God can not fit or be squeezed into a little box, because the glory of God and the promise of new life is something, too great that can only come to those who know that lurking behind the curtain that separates certainty from uncertainty, is a deal impossible to refuse, because in the end, God isn’t interested in making just a deal with us, but rather a covenant, a covenant that seals us with the promise of everlasting life to those who trust in Jesus. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.