1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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?”
38Then 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 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 upward 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.”
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
In 2015, Disney and Pixar released a children’s movie called “Inside Out”. In it, we meet a girl named Riley just as she and her family move from a small town in Minnesota to San Francisco, California. She misses her friends. She misses the places she used to eat. She misses her stuff (the moving truck was delayed in arriving with all their belongings). And she really, really misses hockey. But this isn’t just a story about Riley and her life changes. This movie is a story about her feelings. Her brain is controlled by one of five different emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. At this point in her life, only one feeling can use the control panel of her brain and Joy is the one constantly trying to drive the bus (so to speak). If you’ve watched the movie (and I suggest you do – it’s great, even if you aren’t a child anymore), you know what happens next. Joy and Sadness end up getting lost, Riley tries running away (that’s an idea that Anger came up with), and in a plot twist ending only Sadness can remove the bad idea and get her back home with her parents. While Joy thought Sadness was basically useless, it was this “negative” emotion that brought Riley back to her new home.
I think that sometimes the church is a lot like Riley. We like the good emotions, obviously, but often that comes at the expense of trying to ignore, deny, or purge all “bad” emotions (note the air quotes). We read all about the joy of the Lord, we like to sing the upbeat happy hymns, and we talk about the resurrection as though death doesn’t still cause us grief. But the Christian life is more than just a self-help, feel-good, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, fake it until you make it sort of life. And I think that this can be really frustrating for some people – we like to feel happy, but we can’t always be happy. Some of us spend our whole lives chasing happiness and advertisers and politicians are quick to tell us what we need to do or how we need to vote to make that happen. Churches often fall into this trap, too, and we can begin to be a place where only happiness is allowed to exist. The joy of the Lord definitely exists but that doesn’t mean that as followers of Christ we’ll always be happy.
Our readings today are a pretty clear illustration of that. Just taking a quick glance at the reading shows a wide range of emotions and Jesus doesn’t seem to avoid any of them, either in himself or in those around him. We read that Jesus was “greatly disturbed”, which means he felt anger and indignation. We also read that he wept with his friends – he knows the grief and sadness we face. He felt frustrated. The people around him felt wonder and doubt. And Jesus doesn’t seem to care at all about all these emotions he’s feeling or those around him. He doesn’t shy away from them.
And I have to believe that this was intentional, to some degree. I mean, if he had come immediately to the help of his friend, Lazarus, he could have avoided all these negative emotions, right? Yet he didn’t. It seems that Jesus doesn’t just redeem people, but also emotions, too. He breathes life into our life.
I love the images used in our Ezekiel reading today. The dry bones, waiting, listening for the Word of God. But we have to notice something – just because those bones grow new tissue, muscle, skin, and hair doesn’t mean that they are any more alive than they were before. Not until the breath of the Lord enters them do they begin to move, speak, or live. This prophecy then explains itself, that God will bring up from the grave those who feel like dry bones, that the Holy Spirit will enter them and they will know God. They will know God.
This is a vast departure from the gods and idols of our world – unfeeling, unknowing, and impersonal. They will know God and now, 3000 years later, we do know God, however imperfectly. We know God through the person of Jesus. Jesus is the lens that makes visible the invisible. Jesus is the way that we see and know God.
And here’s what our gospel tells us about God today – that God is not some distant, far off, unfeeling deity. Jesus (and by extension, God) feels what we feel and just as Jesus redeems the whole cosmos, Jesus redeems our human experience. Jesus felt the pain and bitterness of losing a beloved friend to the grave. Jesus felt frustration and anger at the state of the world. Jesus felt loneliness and hunger. Jesus feel joy and friendship. Jesus felt and that is what drove him to the cross for you.
Taking on the human experience, God placed humanity above purity, mercy over judgement, wholeness over segregation, and life over death. God takes the dry bones and breathes life into them – eternal life that comes by God’s own Spirit and Word. God feels your pain and your happiness and God has redeemed it all. There is no one that God has not died to redeem and that includes you.
In a way, our gospel reading today tells us what will happen to Jesus, it gives a foreshadowing. And I think that it’s beautiful. Jesus enters into grief and pain, attending to the death of his friend, and Jesus call him from the grave. In a few weeks, we’ll hear how Jesus switched places with Lazarus. Soon, Jesus will be the one suffering and dying. Soon, Jesus will be the one betrayed to death by his friends. Soon, Jesus will be the one rising from the grave by the Word and Spirit of God. And this points us to this truth: that God is in the business of taking dry bones and breathing life into them and God knows what that feels like.
In the movie Inside Out, Riley realizes that happiness might be preferred, but that every emotion has qualities about it that make it indispensable from the human experience. You can’t be happy all the time, but we don’t have to be. We can experience the full breadth of emotions confident that Jesus has felt them and that God is present with us through every one of them. If you are feeling happy today, God is with you. But if you are feeling something else, something you’d rather not feel, my Word for you today is this. God feels it with you and God has redeemed you regardless of how you’re feeling. God is with you. Amen.