I suspect that many of you know the gospel lesson I chose for today. In this lesson a woman named Martha—one of Jesus’ close friends—lights into Jesus. She chews Jesus out (very politely, you understand) because her brother Lazarus—also Jesus’ close friend—had been summoned to heal Lazarus and Jesus had taken his sweet time getting there. In fact, Jesus’ friend Lazarus had been dead for FOUR days by the time Jesus arrived. Lazarus’ end game here on this earth was over (or was it)?
So Martha, who was no shrinking violet, let Jesus have it. “Lord, if you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” There it is: both her faith in Jesus and her condemnation. Jesus hadn’t done things HER way.
Martha said to Jesus, “Look, I know that you could still fix this. I know you are God come among us. You could give my beloved brother back to me.” Well, Martha’s actual words were, “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
In other words, “Lord, look around. We’re DYING here. Pay attention! Do something! Don’t you care about us?”
So Jesus assured his friend Martha that Lazarus would “rise again.” Jesus didn’t explain. God rarely explains himself. He doesn’t have to give us an account of his actions, of his thinking, or of his reasoning. He doesn’t have to. HE is God; we are not!
Which leaves us in the position of having to figure out the “whys” for ourselves. But isn’t death the great leveler of us all? Isn’t something like death required to strip us down to our essentials, down to our core? Bah! I can’t explain death, either.
All I can say is that I have seen some handle their end-game very, very well, and some not so well. Most of us are somewhere in the middle: struggling to cope graciously and lovingly with whatever lot is our end-game.
Martha, in our scripture passage, embodies a certain aggressive response: “Why, God? Why me? Why this? Why now?” I know from much experience that dwelling on the whys doesn’t get us anywhere useful.
This is why we, in my Christian tradition, observe an All Saints celebration this week. We pick out people whose lives we admire and hope to emulate, to copy. So let me tell you about Stella.
Stella lived across the street from here. She was an ordinary Christian, like me. Until she was diagnosed last year with an inoperable brain tumor. She literally shone with joy. Her response scared her doctors, who sent her to a psychiatrist. No, she assured them, she wasn’t mentally ill or suicidal. But she was ready for that next portion of her life and she wanted to “go home” to Christ Jesus.
Stella spent the next several months making amends with people who had wronged her. Think about that for a moment: She hadn’t done anything wrong to them; they had wronged her. But she told them she was sorry the incident (whatever it was) had harmed their relationship. She told them the possibility existed that she should have reacted in a different way. She asked THEM to forgive HER and told them she was going “home to Jesus” and would “meet them, if possible, at the entrance to heaven” when they got there. In short, Stella was graciousness personified to an extent she had not been able to achieve before her diagnosis.
Stella, by the way, gave me permission to share her end-game story with anyone and everyone. I’ve told you Stella’s story today because I didn’t know most of those who died this past year here at The Fountains. A few. And among them were some very gracious people indeed. But I didn’t think to ask any of them if I could share their story. Perhaps—eventually—you can ask them directly in the life ever-after, where time is no more and death is no more and where God wipes away every tear from their eyes.
But I want to make clear that I am not talking only to residents of The Fountains at Washington House. Aren’t we ALL in the “end-game” of this life?
So today’s let’s celebrate those who have gone before us, who have successfully completed the “Mission Earth” aspect of their lives, as we live in hope of seeing them again in the live ever-lasting.