“[A]fter having heard that Lazarus was ill, [Jesus] stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:6). Two. Days. longer. The Gospel of John tells us that Lazarus’ sisters—Mary and Martha—sent an urgent message saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3). Upon hearing the medical emergency of the person he loved—not just acquainted, Jesus didn’t rush over, didn’t even depart quickly, but only said, “He’s not going to die,” and waited for two more days. Excuse me? Is this person the Jesus we know? Why did he do that? Jesus simply explained, “It’s all for God’s glory.”
Meanwhile in Bethany, Mary and Martha endured a miserable time, the painful two days. They might initially hold a hope for Jesus, when they sent a message to him. “Yes, he loves Lazarus. He will definitely rush over and heal my brother!” But what did actually happened to them? They had to watch him dying helplessly. For two days, there was no response from Jesus. During those two days, they lost hope, lost themselves in sadness, and lost their faith. “Lazarus is dead. It’s done. There’s no other possibility.” They had to bury their brother in a cave-like a tomb. Hopelessness and distress claimed the hearts of Mary and Martha…through the two days…
How many days in your life would be like the two days of Mary and Martha? I mean the days when we pray and send desperate messages to God, “Dear Lord, help me,” but only have a deep silence in return, the days when suffering and sorrow beat us to our knees and our problems in life make us a little less than deadly dead, the days when we find no hope, no reason to live, and feel like we are having our funeral preview. When was the last time you were in the days like that? Or are you going through them right now? Undergoing these days, we lost our hope and faith in God. And finally, we bury the part of ourselves in a deep cave, in a tomb of despair.
And after those days, we find ourselves very hard to restore our faith in God. You may find some people around you completely losing their faith and never getting back. Look at Mary and Martha in the Gospel story. They had changed. They accusingly said to the finally arrived Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). This implies, “Jesus, why did you take so long to be here? Why?” Like Mary and Martha, going through those days, we get changed. We lose a great deal of faith in God. We begin to deny hope and possibilities in God. Then, the question is: in the aftermath of deadly despair, how can we revive our faith? What can we do to rescue ourselves from the cave and bring them back to the light of Christ out of the tomb?
The first thing we should do is to realize and reaffirm one basic truth we can’t deny. That is, God is love, and God is faithful. The God, who we surely know, is the one who gave the only Son to bring us back to the light, the one who dearly wants to help us, and the one who “neither slumbers nor sleeps” to keep us (Psalm 121:4). Indeed, this God never abandons us. Rather, as we are waiting for God in desperation, we better realize that God is waiting too. God is also waiting for the right time and mature time of God, which we cannot discern. There is no tardiness in God’s steadfast love and grace. But we better admit that it is God who chooses time—not us. And we live on God’s time—not ours. Our lives are not solely under our control. Bishop William Willimon says, even if we are in grave need of God’s help, we better allow “God to be God in God’s own good time.” “And it’s utterly dependent on God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And it happens not as soon as we might like” (William H. Willimon, from A Sermon for Every Sunday). The God, who proves one’s love in Jesus Christ, is waiting for the time of God, as we are waiting for the deliverance. We better reaffirm this basic truth.
As we reaffirm the faithful love of God towards us, there is one more thing we should do, even though it seems quite difficult to do. In front of the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus gives an interesting command to the people: “Take away the stone” (John 11:39). “Take away the stone.” Jesus comes to the dark cave where we bury the part of ourselves that we’d rather not see under daylight and says, “Take away the stone.” Jesus comes to the tombs where we encounter the days of suffering and loss that we don’t want anybody to look into and says, “Take away the stone.” Jesus comes to the place where we deny every hope and every possibility, where we deny even God and says, “Take away the stone.” “Take away the stone. Stop keeping your hidden and wounded self away from me. Take away the stone. Let my light of resurrection shine through your despair. Take away the stone. Let me raise you from the dead. Then, you may unbind yourself and freely go.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our God is the one who loved us first, who set us free from the slavery to sin and death, and who called us out into the light of new life. In Jesus Christ, God reveals, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). And our God is the one who promises to revive us when we are like the dry bones in the vision of Ezekiel. When God’s people lament, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely,” God promises, “you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:11-14). Have you buried the part of yourselves in your own tombs? Are you walking into a dark cave now? Please remember the one who is the resurrection and the life, the one who is able to revive the dry bones is with us and for us. So let us be faithful again. In times of trouble, we may try hard to keep our faith in the loving God who is patiently waiting for the right time to save us. And let us take away the stone. We may uncover the part of ourselves crawling into the darkness and laying low. Then, Jesus will raise us again and call us out to be whole, to be the children of light. May the power of resurrection in Jesus Christ revive our faith and set us free from every cave, from every tomb. And may the Spirit of God who revives the dry bones, make us live with everlasting hope always. Amen.