When God Asks the Questions: do you believe this?

Yesterday was All Saints’ Sunday.
It was also Communion Sunday.
Sigh.
Two of my very favorite worship experiences on the same day.
When Don Johnson became our pastor, he brought with him some liturgical traditions that were new to us, 
every one of which I love. 
Each All Saints’ Sunday, we share a litany of thanksgiving for 
those who have died in the year just past.
And a couple of years ago, we added a new piece to this observance:
lit votive candles sit on a table at the back of the center aisle, and during the opening worship song, we are invited to pick up a candle and bring it to the front, placing it on the shelves to the side of the chancel. Those who wish to remember loved ones who have passed from this life to the next are invited to do so in this tactile and beautiful way. It always moves me to tears. I carried a candle for our son-in-law and for my youngest brother yesterday. My husband carried a candle for his father and mine. At least 40 people streamed forward with candles, adding their small lights to the gathering brightness in the front of the sanctuary. It provided a beautiful focus for the service which followed, most particularly for the sermon built on John 11’s story of Jesus’ encounter with Martha and the subsequent raising of Lazarus from the dead. Check it out in John 11:17-44 – it’s one of the all time great conversations in scripture, to say nothing of the miraculous activity that follows it. The photo below was taken by our pastor using the hipstmatic app on his iphone. It created a mirror image of one of our candlelit shelves – and is lovely in it’s black and white simplicity. 
Thank you, Don – for the picture and the sermon.
How many times have I heard this question asked?
How many times have I asked it myself, offering these words as a call to worship at a memorial Service of the Resurrection?
“I am the resurrection and the life. 
Anyone who believes in me will live, 
even though they die, 
and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. 
Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this??
I wonder sometimes at Martha’s quick, sure response:
“Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, 
the Son of God who was to come into the world.”

I wonder in both senses of that word – 
I ponder it, 
surprised and maybe a little doubtful 
that she truly understood what she was saying.
And I wonder – I truly WONDER.
I am awestruck at her simple, clear faith.

For in truth, who of us ever understands what this means?
This remarkable statement of identity,
this claim to divine status,
this fulfillment of centuries of promise,
of hope delayed,
of suffering and enemy occupation and senseless slaughter.

It is an astounding claim, when you think about it.
This entire story is fraught with mind-boggling details:
Jesus delayed two days before going to see 
one of his best friends who was seriously ill.
He delayed two days.

He makes strange noises about glory and death not being death.

He engages Martha – the over-busy one, the one he loves in her over-busyness – 
he speaks to her with confidence and tenderness and hope. 
He surprises her with his question, I think.
And she blurts out her gut response.
“Do you believe this?”
Yes, Lord, I BELIEVE.”

He strides over to the tomb, struck by the weeping all around 
as he walks. So struck that he himself weeps.
Death is so clearly the enemy in this story.
The grief and wrenching disorientation that death brings – 
these are the things that bring tears to the Savior.

He patiently endures the blame – from the sisters, these ones who are part of his inner circle, the women who have seen him and known him as few others have. 
And the unspoken blame that sat heavy in the air all around him  
as he climbed to that tomb.
“He loved him – but couldn’t he have done something to prevent all this weeping? 
Where was he?  Where was he?

And then comes the command: Take away that stone!

Martha – bless her – Martha once again speaks before she takes time to think.
“But Lord, he’s been here for four days – he’s going to stink!”

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

How this line cuts me to the quick, every single time I read it.

Did I not tell you?
Do you not know?
Do you not believe?

And then, the prayer of thanksgiving, offered BEFORE the miracle.

And the booming voice, the voice over creation, now the voice over death:
“LAZARUS, COME OUT!”
And he does!
In front of them all, this stunning truth:
trailing his burial cloths, Lazarus walks out of his own tomb.
This revelation is the big one – the penultimate one – 
and it is designed to show his closest friends exactly who he is, 
to provide the most powerful visual aid ever, to picture who God truly is – 
a God who raises the dead. 
A God who raises the dead.
And one last, all-important detail remains…
“Take off the grave clothes, and let him go.
Let.Him.Go.
And something inside my spirit begins to ring like a tuning fork.
Yes, I recognize this deep truth, this call to freedom.
For when I take a good look at myself, 
I often see the trailing ends of rags, 
those bindings of death that slow my forward motion,
that keep me from truly seeing, 
from truly living my life. 
Sometimes I need help to get rid of them.
And sometimes, so do you.
That’s why we’re together on this journey, isn’t it?
To help each other believe.
To help each other believe that we serve a God who raises the dead. 
A God who says to us all,
“Unwind the tangles. 
Release each other to fullness of life. 
Believe.
Do you believe this?
Joining this Monday, as I do most Mondays, with Michelle over at “Graceful” and tomorrow with the soli deo gloria sisterhood at Jen’s place, “Finding Heaven. 


 

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Comments

  1. We believe and your words help our unbelief! Thank you again. It was great to share part of the day with you.

  2. Yes…if we believe, we will see. Beautiful

  3. I love my community — both in church and online (including you!) who help me believe in the day-to-day!

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