John 11: 32-43
32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thursday morning, I called Anita to check on Raymond and see how things were going. I wanted to go out and visit them personally, but a sore throat, a telling sign of an oncoming cold prevented me from doing so. Raymond had just come home from the hospital a few days earlier, and he didn’t need any sort of cold or infection, especially one from his pastor.
Anita told me that Raymond wasn’t feeling too well. That he was weak and having a bit of difficulty breathing. He wasn’t hungry. She was wondering what to do. Should she take him to the emergency room? Should she call the hospital and see what they said? Should she just wait until a scheduled doctor’s appointment the next day? All these questions we asked and wondered about, and we finally decided to call the home health people and see what they said. Perhaps if only I had been insistent that she take Raymond into the emergency room, he would still be here today.
But I am not the only one wondering if only. Later Thursday afternoon, Rita and I talked about band practice and whether or not we would need to actually have it. Our conversation turned to Raymond once again. Larry had been calling and trying to get Raymond to go to the hospital since he wasn’t doing well. If only Larry had managed and forced the issue…
And if only Anita would have been able to get Raymond to go. The first thing she said to me when I walked into the house Thursday night, Friday morning was, "If only I had insisted that he go."
If only. If only Raymond would not have had a doctor’s appointment the next day anyway, and if only he wouldn’t have been believed he could just wait until then. If only he wouldn’t have had the open heart surgery. If only the doctors would have gone through the vein instead of cracking his chest. If only. If only. If only.
"Lord, if only you would have been here, my brother would not have died." Mary said these words 2000 years ago as Jesus came to visit. Mary’s brother Lazarus had fallen ill. They sent for Jesus, but Jesus didn’t come right away. Jesus tarried, and Lazarus died. He had been buried for four days. The if onlys were flying fast and furious.
We do this to ourselves a lot, you know. We wonder what would have, could have, should have happened. We wonder how our lives would be different if we would have changed this or that or the other. We wonder how it all would have worked out if we had taken a different path or made a different choice. If only.
But interestingly enough, Jesus doesn’t play the if only game. Jesus doesn’t ask those kinds of questions. Jesus doesn’t live in the past and consider all the different possibilities. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is here to reveal God to us and show us how God operates.
Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb, and as He is being led there, He takes notice of everyone’s grief. He is genuinely moved by their sorrow. He is genuinely touched by their mourning and weeping. Jesus is not detached. In one of the shortest Bible verses in Scripture, we are told, "Jesus began to weep." God knows our pain. He knows our sorrow. He understands all that we are going through. God is not unmoved by our plight and the things we go through.
Which means, my brothers and sisters, God knows what we are feeling right now as we gather. God knows what is in our hearts and in our minds. God knows that we have lost a friend, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, and a husband. God knows we grieve this loss. God knows the pain each and every one of us feels.
And God weeps with us, shedding tears as Jesus shed tears so long ago.
And perhaps this is comfort to some. Perhaps it is enough to know that God weeps with us and understands our pain and sorrow and misery. Perhaps it is enough to know that God is not unmoved by our suffering, but God is not finished. There is more to the story.
Jesus is taken to the tomb where His friend is buried. He has them remove the stone. The stench, I am sure was overwhelming. I am sure some thought Jesus had gone out of His mind. But Jesus was here to show God’s power. Jesus was here to show God’s reality. Jesus was here to show God’s promises to you and to me, and He was going to reveal to us how God handles death.
"Lazarus!" Jesus yelled. "Come forth."
The dead was raised to life. Lazarus came forth. And Jesus commanded that Lazarus be unbound and released.
This event of course was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection—a resurrection to life eternal. And through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you and I have been made His brothers and sisters so that you and I will share in the same glory that He shares. Yes, that means, you and I will be raised from the dead. You and I will have eternal life. You and I will know the joys of going to be with God and spending eternity with God. God doesn’t just weep when we weep; He promises to wipe away those tears and transform our mourning into dancing. That won’t happen instantaneously. We will still have to wait until God chooses to bring this about fully, but we hold onto that promise, and we hold onto it with our entire being.
The if onlys will continue to raise their heads. But, we must beat them back, instead choosing to focus on the future instead of the past. And now, please allow me to give you a glimpse of that future.
This Thursday, Anita was trying to get Raymond situated in bed. She was trying to prop him up when he reached out, caught his breath, and then breathed his last. Raymond died there in her arms, suddenly, unexpectedly. Tears of grief and sadness flowed.
But one day, Anita, you will see Raymond again. You will be reunited with him before God and before all who have gone before. He will have arms held up in waiting for you, and you will embrace. He will be able to tell you that he loves you again, and you will never miss hearing those words. You will have tears then too, but they will be tears of joy as this pain and sorrow is completely taken away. And then you, and Raymond, and the host of heaven along with all on earth who believe will join the feast which has no end. All will be made new, and no one will ever say, if only. Amen.