Friday, April 18, 2014

Come and See

It's Holy Week, so I've been busy and it's taken a week to post this.  I sent this out to my church a week ago on April 11.  It's a reflection meant to help us enter Holy Week together--given the subject matter, it is still appropriate to share on Good Friday.

Come and See

This past week I preached from John 11:1-45.  John's gospel is different from the other three we have in the New Testament.  Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are called the Synoptic Gospels--from the Greek "see together" or "look alike"--all follow the same plot structure and often have the same words, but John's gospel looks very different from them.  Only in John do we find the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead--the passage I preached on.  This story is the culmination of the miracles of Jesus in John; miracles which are called signs.  The signs reveal Jesus' identity, and this final sign, the raising of Lazarus, demonstrates God's power over death through him.

As I said in my sermon last Sunday, I know within our church there is a wide range of beliefs when it comes to the divinity of Jesus or lack thereof.  I ask those with doubts about John's picture of the divine Jesus to enter for a while John's narrative.  You don't have to give up your beliefs about Jesus but just take time to understand the point John is trying to make.  In the end, whether you believe Jesus is divine or not, the story still has something to offer.

Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, John contains no scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Although Jesus does enter a garden in chapter 18 where he is arrested, he does not pray in agony over his soon to come torture and death.  In chapter 11, Jesus does weep, however, just before he raises Lazarus from the dead.  In verse 33, Jesus is "greatly disturbed" because of the grief of those gathered to mourn Lazarus, and then in verse 35 are the famous words: "Jesus wept."  Those around him assume Jesus is weeping for his dead friend--so do most commentators, but is Jesus only weeping for Lazarus?  After all, according to John, Jesus knew even before Lazarus died that he would come and raise Lazarus from death.  Why is Jesus crying when he knows everything will be okay?

Bible scholar and master preacher Fred Craddock writes that this is the Gospel of John's Gethsemane story.  Unlike the other gospels, Jesus does not weep on his last night but rather weeps before he does something that will set his death in motion.  Once Jesus raises Lazarus from death, he effectively signs his own death warrant.  The religious powers that be understand that Jesus is a threat they must eliminate.  Only a few verses later they have made the decision to have him killed.

Jesus is weeping, because his own faith will be put to the test.  Once he performs this last miracle there is no turning back for him.  In verse 34, just before Jesus weeps, he asks those gathered where Lazarus has been laid?  They respond, "Lord, come and see."  The words "come and see" in John have special meaning.  One of Jesus' first disciples, Philip, urges his brother Nathaniel, "come and see" the Messiah.  The Samaritan woman urges her fellow townspeople to "come and see" the Messiah.  Now, ironically, it is Jesus who must "come and see" what kind of Messiah he really is.  Soon he will be inhabiting a tomb, just like Lazarus.  Soon he will see what it is to be in need of being raised from the dead.

If Jesus is divine, what might it mean to think that God might know fear of death?  What might it mean to think of God weeping over the power death holds over those whom God loves?   What might it mean that God knows what it is to fear death not only intellectually but also experientialy?  These are the questions about God that John's Gospel asks.  Often John is understood as portraying a divine-looking Jesus who is in control the whole time, but if Jesus is weeping for himself as well as for his dead friend, in this moment at least, Jesus is not in control.

Is it more comforting to you or less to consider a God who knows firsthand what it is to fear death?  I take great comfort in a God who identifies so closely with what we humans must endure.  Whatever you believe about Jesus' divinity or lack thereof, each of us  must at some point "come and see" if what we have faith in will hold up in light of our mortality. 

With our faith and our doubt, let's journey together into Holy Week to hear the old stories one more time.  Together, let us "come and see" what they have to teach us about death and life, despair and hope.  I look forward to seeing you on Palm Sunday.

Grace and Peace,

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