Gospel: John 11:1-45 (Lent 5: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

This week’s text invites us to walk alongside a grieving sister. The connection to your hearers will be easy, for life in this world provides no shortage of reasons to grieve.

A smart man. A thirsty woman. A blind beggar. A grieving sister. Four different people in four different situations. Four people changed by an encounter with Jesus. They lived in places and times far from ours, but we have much in common with them. We are smart, but not nearly as smart as we think. So, like He did with Nicodemus, Jesus teaches us. We are thirsty, longing for something that will satisfy. And Jesus, like He did with the Samaritan woman, gives us Living Water. We have blind spots which keep us from fully seeing God, ourselves, and others. As He did with the beggar born blind, Jesus opens our eyes.

This week’s text invites us to walk alongside a grieving sister. The connection to your hearers will be easy, for life in this world provides no shortage of reasons to grieve.

Grief in our lives comes in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources. Depending on your context, it should not be hard to identify tangible reasons for your congregation to grieve. Causes may include:

  • Broken relationships. We were close with someone, but that was before the “incident.”
  • Society has changed, often times in the wrong direction, and we mourn the loss of what we used to take for granted.
  • Families, churches, and communities turn against one another. Those who are closest to us often cause us the most pain.

Behind all the reasons to grieve lurks something which leaves none of us unaffected. I am speaking of death. Death shows up all around as relationships die, communities die, and dreams die. But the most dreadful of all is literal. Our loved ones die, and the finality of death causes a grief that cannot be undone. This was the cause in our text from John 11. The grieving sister (or I should say, sisters) mourned the death of their brother.

At the beginning of our reading from John 11, we learn Lazarus had become ill, close-to-death ill. So, Mary and Martha did what they could. They sent for Jesus. They knew He could help. He had already healed a number of people in miraculous ways. “Come quickly, Lord. Our brother, the one you love, is very sick.” Jesus got the message. He learned of His friend’s condition. But Jesus did not come. He waited. And as He waited, Lazarus died. Four days later, Jesus finally showed up. He came to Martha and Mary while their grief was still raw. Both of them (Martha in verse 21 and Mary in verse 32) met Jesus with the same words. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Does it sound familiar? You have asked God for help. You know He had the ability to provide, but no help came. You have asked God for healing. You know He can heal with only a word, but the sickness got worse. You have asked God for reconciliation and unity, both in the Church and in the world (and maybe also in your family), but strife and divisions only deepened. Your hearers have done the same. They have begged God for help, only to be disappointed, only to find another reason to grieve.

“Lord, if you would have provided healing, my friend would still be here.”

“Lord, if you had answered my prayers, my marriage could have been saved.”

“Lord, if you had done what I asked you to do, what I needed you to do, what I begged you to do, I would not be filled with such grief.”

He did not make excuses for His delay. Instead, He spoke a word of promise.

Notice Jesus’ response to Martha. He did not apologize to her. He did not admit He was wrong. He did not make excuses for His delay. Instead, He spoke a word of promise. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live” (verse 25). Then, before demonstrating His authority over death, Jesus joined them. He joined these sisters in their grief. He saw Mary crying and He saw the people with her crying, and He was deeply moved (verse 33). The only one who can do something about our grief is familiar with grief Himself.

Jesus’ display of emotion in this text reminds us grief is only possible for those who lose something or someone beloved. That is, we grieve because we love.

The same is true of Jesus. He wept with the sisters because He loved them. He hurt for them because He cared about them. He knows what it means to lose a loved one, and He has compassion on those who have tasted the pain of loss. That is a comforting thought to anyone who grieves. But God does much more than empathize with us.

Next Sunday begins Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, you will lead your congregation into Jerusalem with Jesus. You will walk with them to the upper room. You will follow with them to the Garden of Gethsemane and witness Jesus’ betrayal. You will make your way to Pilate’s judgment seat. You will listen with them to the demands of the mob. Together, you will witness Jesus carrying His cross outside of the city. You will stand with them at the place of the Skull. You will watch Jesus take His final breath.

How will you and your congregation respond? You will grieve.

But that is not all. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. The tomb could not hold Lazarus. The tomb could not hold Jesus. And the tomb cannot hold us; not you, not me, not loved ones who died in faith, not the people who have yet to hear and believe in Christ and His love. Which will remind us we are not there yet. The stubborn persistence of grief remains, even after Easter Sunday.

But we do not grieve alone, and we do not grieve without hope. We grieve together as the people of God. We grieve with the promise of Jesus in our hearts and on our lips. As we grieve, we continue to come before our risen Lord in prayer, not to force His hand, but to confess our faith in His promise. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He says again to you and through you. “Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on John 11:1-45 (46-53).

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 11:1-45 (46-53).

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 11:1-45 (46-53).

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 11:1-45 (46-53).