Readings, Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37
Image, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Resurrection of Lazarus, 1896
Let’s consider for a moment, the story of Lazarus. Lazarus grows ill. His concerned sisters, Martha and Mary, send a message to Jesus, Lord, the one whom you love is ill. Then they wait. They look to the horizon awaiting the coming of the Son of God. And yet, he does not come. Unbeknownst to them Jesus chooses to remain where he was for two days. The sisters wait. Lazarus declines. The sisters hope. Lazarus dies.
By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been entombed four days. Martha approaches Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Soon after Jesus is approached by Mary, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Advent is the season where we hasten and wait for the return of Christ by reflecting on his on his arrival incarnate some two thousand years ago. Advent is reflective, Christ has come, and anticipatory, Christ will come again. Both these horizons serve as sites of hope. And yet, when we take up the Advent injunction to keep awake, watching for Christ to bring the peace and restoration of the new creation, we can certainly relate to the feelings of Mary and Martha, Lord, if you had been here. Just as we can relate to the sentiments expressed by the prophet Isaiah, O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
For the world is awash with violence and misery. We lament the thousands of children killed in Gaza, we await the release of more hostages, we grieve the war waged against Ukraine, we long for the freedom of West Papua, we are weighed down by the refugee crisis in Artsakh, we despair at rates of incarceration for Indigenous folks in these lands. Beyond the cruelty humans impose on one another, the climate crisis gives us the sense that the world is fraying at the edges as whole communities risk of losing homes to rising tides. Then there are the intimate worries and woes of our lives and the lives of those we love, the times we have called out, Lord, the one whom you love is ill, only to be met with silence.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down. Lord, if you had been here.
There are many in history, as there are many today, who felt as though the time was ripe for Christ to come again. We could likely look at the long line of human history and find several points at which to say, Lord, if you had been here of all this suffering could have been avoided. The day and the hour no one knows, but many have hoped it would be their own.
Let’s return to the story of Lazarus. Martha comes to Jesus with her complaint, but then adds, even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him. Even now… even now, despite the seemingly inescapable finality of death, even now after the long history of human cruelty, even now in the face of catastrophe and conflict, even now after the prayers seem unanswered and the return of our Lord interminably delayed. Even now… This is the posture of the Christian; the posture of Advent.
In such a posture we do not deny the presence of death and loss in our world. Nor hide from present injustice and historical inequity. We know the world is not as it should be and would be different were the heavens torn open and the Lord was here. And yet in this posture we say even now. In this posture we hold onto hope, hold on past hope, hold on to the promise that despite everything feeling lost, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Even now, with so much harm that can no longer be repaired, and so much hurt that yet needs to be healed, even now God will give to Jesus whatever he asks. And what Jesus asks is that Lazarus should come out of his grave. What Jesus asks is that those who die, will live.
What this will mean or look like when Christ returns is as mysterious as the day and the hour at which it will break into history. What awaits us when the present age fades away is a great mystery. But God’s eternity means God’s relation to time is otherwise. The one who arrives too late to Bethany is not too late to raise the dead. History will yet be redeemed, its wounds healed and its path transfigured. The glory of God will be revealed in the infinite compassion of the one who looks and weeps at the world’s loss and calls us from our graves. For we are all God’s people; we are the clay as God is our potter. We shall all be remade by the one who calls us to be unbound from our sorrows and released from death’s grip. So much injustice and loss has occurred, that we who are human cannot retrieve or repair. And thus we look to the Advent of Christ, holding out hope that even now Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, stands ready to come in glory and gather up all of creation - from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven - and restore all things in love.
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