“After 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 to Jesus: “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3). Upon hearing this medical emergency of the friend he dearly loved—not just an acquaintance, Jesus didn’t rush over, didn’t even leave quickly, but he only said, “He’s not going to die,” and waited for two more days. Excuse me? Is this person the Jesus that we know? Why did he do that? According to Jesus, “It’s all for God’s glory.”
Meanwhile in Bethany, Mary and Martha was going through a miserable time. Initially, they might have had a great hope for Jesus as they sent a message to him. “Yes, he loves Lazarus. He will definitely run over here and heal my brother!” But instead, what actually happened to them? They had to watch Lazarus die helplessly. There was no response from Jesus for two days. And while they were desperately waiting for Jesus, they lost their hope and lost themselves in sadness. Then, they lost their faith. “Lazarus is dead. It’s done. There’s no more chance.” They buried their brother in a cave-like tomb, and they buried their hopes there with him. Bitterness and despair took over the hearts of Mary and Martha.
Living our life, how many days are like those two dark days that Mary and Martha experienced? I mean, the days when we pray and send desperate messages to God, “Dear Lord, help me,” but receive only deep silence in return. I mean, the days when distress and sorrow beat us down to our knees, but we can’t muster up courage anymore and can’t find the peace of Christ inside. I mean, the days when we feel empty and lost, but we can’t feel the presence of God in our lives. When was the last time you were in these dark days? Or, are you going through such days right now? Yes, in these days we feel helpless and vulnerable amid the rapidly spreading virus and mounting death toll. Yet, there’s no clear sign of hope on the horizon. We just stay at home, burrowed like hermit crabs, shut the doors of our houses and…perhaps, shut the doors of our hearts as well.
Undergoing dark days, to whatever degree we may go through them, it is so easy for us to bury our hope, bury our peace, and bury a bright and positive part of ourselves in a deep cave, in a tomb of despair. Truly, it is hard to hold on to our faith. Look at Mary and Martha in the Gospel story. Through those two days, they changed so much. Listen to them accusing Jesus who finally arrived, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). This implies, “Jesus, why did it take so long? Why?” Like Mary and Martha, it’s quite inevitable for us to lose a great deal of faith and begin to deny the possibilities in God as we go through our dark days.
Then, is there any way we can revive our faith, or at least maintain our faith in these days? Is there any way we can bring our lost selves from the cave back to the light of Christ again? Here’s the good news for us today. There is a certain solution that is tailored to meet our needs. And even better, this solution has been testified by our faithful ancestors in the Bible and in Christian history. So I can confidently introduce this fail-proof solution to you. And that is…waiting. Yes, the solution is to wait, to learn how to wait for the Lord. I know, it can be a frustrating answer to you. But I don’t know how to put it other ways. So again, faithful friends in Christ, waiting is our solution.
Mary and Martha, they had to wait for Jesus. They waited unwillingly because they couldn’t find any other alternatives. But they should’ve known, Jesus was also waiting. He was waiting for the right and mature time of God, which they couldn’t discern. Yes, there’s no tardiness in God’s grace. Our God “neither slumbers nor sleeps” to keep us (Psalm 121:4). But at the same time, we have to admit that it is indeed God who chooses the time—not us. And we live on God’s timeline—not ours. Our lives are not totally under our control. Bishop William Willimon says, even if we are in grave needs for God’s help, we have to wait for “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.” Yes, Mary and Martha should have known that Jesus, with his compassionate love, was also waiting for the opportune moment of God during that dark days.
After the days, Jesus finally arrived and brought Lazarus back to life. In this act of God’s grace, Jesus reveals an enduring hope for Mary and Martha and for us today. He 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?” (John 11:25-26). Going through our dark days, we wait, yet we don’t wait aimlessly. Our waiting is not of hopelessness. Our waiting is not a helpless drift through the passage of time. Instead, we wait for the coming Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life.
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading we also meet a person who is desperately waiting for God to act. But unlike Mary and Martha, he couldn’t witness how God acts upon the promise. Most of his lifetime was filled with dark days until the end. He is Ezekiel, and this prophet lived one of the most turbulent times in the history of Israel. During his ministry, Jerusalem was fallen by the powerful Babylonians. And he was taken to the city of Babylonia. All hopes were lost for him. Nevertheless, he waited. In exile, he waited. He waited for God’s time to come.
To him, God gave a marvelous vision. In the vision, the Spirit of the Lord sets him down in the middle of a valley full of bones. Then, God says to him, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:11-12). Then he witnesses how God revives and raises the whole house of Israel from the dry bones.
Even though Ezekiel died before the release of the captive Israelites and their return to Jerusalem, he faithfully waited for God’s time with this hopeful vision in his heart. Like Ezekiel, going through our dark days, we wait, yet we don’t wait aimlessly. Our waiting is not of hopelessness. Our waiting is not a helpless drift through the passage of time. But we wait for our God, who has a power, to open our graves and bring us up to the new life. God promises Ezekiel and us today, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord (Ezekiel 37:14).
Faithful friends in Christ, our Lord is “the resurrection and the life,” who sets Lazarus free from the tomb of death. Our God is the God of new creation, who revives a vast multitude out of the valley full of dry bones. Walking through our darkest days, let us humbly wait for this God. Our waiting never goes in vain, because we know who our God is and what God is capable of, because we know that our God is also waiting for God’s own good time to work for us. And our waiting is never passive. Rather it’s an active action, because we reaffirm our faith in the promise of God while waiting, because we sow the tenacious and audacious hope that sprouts even from the darkness, even from the wilderness.
Therefore, from today, let us never lose our confidence and faith in our Lord although our days are still dark. And let us wait for God’s time to come with patience and penitence, in our prayers and meditations. In our humble waiting, may the Spirit of the Lord, who brought Lazarus out of the grave, call you out of despair and darkness. May the Spirit of the Lord, who revived the whole house of Israel from the dry bones, empower you and lift you up. And as the Apostle Paul proclaims in his Letter to the Romans today, may the Spirit of the Lord who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you and give life and everlasting hope to you always (Romans 8:11). Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim