Posted on November 26th, 2016
November 22, 2016
Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
John 10:11-16; 11:21-27
Frederick, dear brother in Christ; Ellen, Steve, Taylor, and Drew; Alyson; Steve and Melissa; and all the saints gathered here this day: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Poor Martha gets a bad rap. She’s remembered mostly for being upset that her sister isn’t helping her with the meal preparations, earning her the gentle rebuke of Jesus, calling her by name twice: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.” Her sister Mary is praised for devoting herself to the teaching of Jesus.
But shortly before today’s Gospel reading about Jesus and Martha, St. John tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Martha gets named, while Mary is just “her sister.” Jesus loves her; and she comes out to meet Jesus, while Mary stays in the house. Mary’s angry at Jesus for not being there when Lazarus died.
Martha’s upset too; but she still speaks with absolute confidence that Jesus will keep His Word and promises. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says to her. “Do you believe this?” “Yes!” she cries.
When I came to Immanuel something confused me. I was pretty sure that the organist was named “Barbara,” but sometimes I’d hear her called “Martha.” And Barbara was always busy, like Martha, toiling away. Sometimes I’d throw Martha into a sermon just as a little shout-out to the lady on the organ bench. She always caught the reference.
But Barbara was also every bit like the Martha described in today’s Gospel: confessing to the end that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is the resurrection and the life.
There are so many things that made Barbara unique and special. But a brief conversation we had on Good Friday in 2003 is among the most memorable to me. We had just read the passage from 2 Cor. 5 on reconciliation:
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
A faithful Christian, Barbara believed whole-heartedly that the death of Jesus is what makes peace between God and man. And along with this, she whole-heartedly wanted all the dear people in her life to live with one another in peace and harmony.
Barbara loved harmony, among people and in music. Adorning a wall in our house is a beautiful piece of art, handmade by Barbara with the most intricate needlework. She spelled out our last name using musical instruments, vines and roses, and various musical symbols. I like it even more now because there’s a piece of her love and thoughtfulness that lives on with us in our home.
I suspect all throughout the country are similar things in other people’s homes, pieces of her self-giving that touched countless lives. Her memory and love lives on.
But there’s something much more important that we need to say. For the Christian hope is not simply that a memory lives on, or in some sense the spirit lives on.
Today we carry a body to the cemetery. Laying the casket in the ground seems so final, so futile and hopeless.
Another casket was carried, long ago. As Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, there’s this small little reference among all the haste and chaos and blood of the passover and flight and pursuing army and parted waters of the Red Sea. “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.” Why? Because dead bones matter to God. He has a plan for them. God did not make Adam to be only a soul, or only a body. Neither did he make Joseph, or Barbara, or you, to be only a soul, or only a body. He made us to be both, joined together. So the bones matter.
The prophet Ezekiel is shown a valley which has become a cemetery. There were no neatly arranged graves, or caskets. He saw in all its horror the death of man. Bones were scattered everywhere. The Spirit asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” “O Lord GOD, You know.” It’s kind of a copout. It’s like Ezekiel is saying, “I think you’re wanting the answer, ‘Yes, they can live,’ but all I see is death. Dead bodies don’t come alive again, bones do not reassemble.”
That’s what we see. But God does more than what we see, or what we think can be. The Word of God speaks over the graveyard:
“‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord.”
Can these bones live? The LORD who made us from nothing answers with a resounding, “Yes!” That’s why Moses took the bones of Joseph up from Egypt with him. God wasn’t done with them yet. Neither is God done with our sister Barbara yet. Neither is He done with you.
Christ is risen, and our sister Barbara shall likewise rise.
That one great truth is what caused Barbara to lead the church in song. She played with vigor, with a tempo that dared you to keep up and a thunder from the balcony that shook the floor all the way up to the front of the church. It all confessed, “Christ is risen!”
Today then, let us not mourn as those who have no hope. Christ is risen, and we sing with the Psalms, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
Christ was crucified, and the words to the thief are true: “This day you will be with Me in paradise.”
Christ died, and in Him is reconciliation. Fulfill then Barbara’s wish, and live in peace with each other.
Christ slept in the grave, and now all the graves of the saints are made holy.
Christ is risen, and Barbara’s song has become ours: “Our Father keeps Immanuel in grace with love and peace. For this we truly thank Him / Our praises never cease.”
Christ is risen, and hell is in uproar!
Christ is risen, and the power of sin is removed.
Christ is risen, and the grave has become the gate which the righteous pass through.
Christ is risen, and even in the face of death the Church cries out: “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!