Sermon for March 29, 2020          Lent 5                    “Minding the Gap”

The raising of Lazarus is a story filled with nooks and crannies of understanding the nature of Jesus. Some of the lessons are obvious and some are delicately tucked away so you have to go looking for them. Or leave time alone with the text to allow the scope of lessons come to you.

In my prayer and meditation time this week and as I sat with this text, what came to me was the space that is built into the story. The gaps that leave space for essential teaching, that pause that draws us into a truth and brings us to the edge of our seat with anticipation.

The story is very well know and even those who do not know the teachings of Jesus well are aware of the raising of Lazarus story. Most even know that the shortest verse in the bible is in this story ‘He wept’, and every children’s bible and picture bible has Jesus with his arms outstretched and Lazarus walks out of the grave, gray cloth strips dangling from his arms and head.

In this story the gaps prepare us for the key elements of truth that require our attention. The first gap is when Jesus hears the news of his friends illness he does not immediately go to Bethany. He waits two more day. His reason is that ‘this illness will not lead to his death’. What Jesus does for these two days is not revealed. It is a gap, a time of waiting and wondering. If the disciples are perplexed they do not show it, if they try to hurry Jesus, we just do not know.

A two-day gap. For those reading and listening in our day, instead of hurrying on to the rest of the story, maybe it is a time to stop, mind what is happening in the gap and be present to what is right before us now.

When Jesus arrived near Bethany he stopped, he did not go right to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha came to see Jesus and said if you had been here, or if there was gap between then and now my brother would be alive.  Then Martha went to get her sister Mary and she too came and said almost the same thing. Jesus, in this space outside the town of Bethany, offered the same response to the sisters, Lazarus will live. Another gap so that we the listeners will be ready for the remarkable climax of the story.

When Jesus arrives at the tomb, he asks for it to be opened. Another short gap, this time from the community of Bethany as they prepare for a stench.

And then the words we have anticipated: Lazarus, come out.

And he does. A new teaching dawns on the people of Bethany and from that tiny hamlet to the world even to our day. And we celebrate and the tears flow, not with the bitterness of grief but with the dance of gratitude.

As we attend to our days amid the COVID-19 we are being forced into a ‘gap time’. A time that is new every moment and we do not yet know the outcomes. I believe that God uses all people and time for good. It may take some time to figure out the why or how can this ever be good but we live now, as before, as a people of faith and trust.

Maybe that is the lesson for us today from the teaching of Jesus in the story of Lazarus. That in times of despair and anguish, times when we are given gap moments to be alone with ourselves, in times that seem gloomy, we have the capacity to go deep in faith and trust. We need the gap however in order to get there.

The story of the days we are in will be recorded and become part of the ongoing story of God and God’s people. How we are today, how we live with faith, trust, hospitality (even from a distance) and care may very well determine how we understand the ending.

As for me, I am leaning into the gap time and learning to trust God anew. Amen