“Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice” (Psalm 130:1).
Again this Sunday, it’s a line from the psalms that resounds with startling relevance as we confront the corona virus pandemic. Once again, the psalmist’s voice could be ours: Out of the depths we call; Lord, hear our voice.
Out of the depths of fear. Fear for ourselves and for the people we love. Out of the depths of isolation and depression; despair, even. Exhaustion and frustration. Out of the depths of so much loss all at once. Too many lives lost, each one somebody’s father or mother, spouse or sibling or child. But also lost jobs. Small businesses we used to enjoy or rely upon. Lost income and savings. The loss of careful plans and wild dreams. Long anticipated milestones with their celebrations and ceremonies. Loss of routine. Of a stable sense of time and place. A lost Holy Week and Easter physically together in the worship spaces of St. Paul’s.
Out of the depths we call.
On this Fifth Sunday in Lent, with the story of the raising of Lazarus from John’s gospel ringing in our ears (11:1-45), we should feel emboldened to call to God out of the depths, because Jesus calls along with us. The psalmist’s voice is the voice of Jesus; and Jesus’ voice joins ours. Jesus knows in his bones the depths of frustration and exhaustion, isolation and loss, because he’s dwelt there long before us. Jesus calls to God from the cross, with tomb and a stone awaiting him, too.
Jesus loved Lazarus, the man who fell ill and died. Jesus loved the sisters Mary and Martha. When he saw their weeping and the weeping of the community that had come to console them, Jesus became greatly disturbed and deeply moved. Jesus himself began to weep on the way to the tomb where they had laid Lazarus.
Jesus loves us. Loves the Lazarus, the Mary and the Martha, the community of mourners, in each of us. Jesus weeps for us. Weeps over us. Out of the depths we call, because there is Jesus in those depths alongside us.
But my friends, hear and believe that Jesus answers our call out of the depths with an even louder cry: “Lazarus, come out!” That’s the heart of our faith, isn’t it? Life. Those who believe in me, Jesus says, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. The very heart of our faith in Jesus, and yet a hard truth; maybe not the one we really want. Martha voices the difficulty first: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then Mary, “Lord, if you had been here….” And their community: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:21, 32, 37)
What I hear in the story of the raising of Lazarus and strive and struggle to believe is the hard truth that faith in Jesus mean the resurrection of the dead, not the prevention of death. Resurrection, not keeping others from dying. No. Four days in the tomb with the stench of death in the air: then Jesus cries with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And what if resurrection is not a one-time thing Jesus dispenses? “I AM the resurrection and the life,” he says (11:25). A process. In motion and on-going. A resurrected life.
Now, if all we can manage to do this Sunday is to call to God out of the depths – that’s enough. More than enough. Gospel enough, because we call out of the depths with Jesus. But maybe we could also begin to pivot toward today’s additional gospel and await Jesus’ louder cry, “Come out!” For Jesus’ voice sets people in motion. Take away the stone. Come out! Unbind him and let him go.
I wonder what Lazarus did with his resurrected life? What Mary and Martha did with theirs? The community? What was different? What remained the same?
I wonder what we will do with our resurrected life when finally we hear Jesus cry: “Come out of the depths of COVID-19!” I wonder what one new Lenten discipline we’ve adopted and adapted while staying home to stay healthy we might make permanent? I wonder what we at St. Paul’s will do with our resurrected life, already practicing interim leadership even while we await a new rector? And maybe you’ve seen those before and after satellite photos of greatly reduced air pollution in response to the corona virus. I wonder how we as a human race might continue to unbind mother earth and let her go toward a resurrected life?
I leave you with these questions for reflection and response in the days to come.