The Temerity to Obey
As I was putting this sermon to paper, a 57 year old woman was preparing to end her life. Audrey Parker, of Halifax Nova Scotia, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2016. ‘All my tumours on my skeleton are killing me,” she says in a blunt, matter of fact tone. “My brain is constantly telling me; Cut those legs off. Cut those arms off. Get away from the pain.”
The problem for Audrey came when she explored the option of her right to an assisted death. According to the law, a person needs to be mentally competent immediately before they give consent for their assisted death. This law is designed to protect the vulnerable. However, for Audrey, it means dying before she wishes to. “I would like to see another Christmas. But, if I wait too long, the cancer may travel to my brain and I will not longer be able to give that consent. Which means, my friends, and especially my mother, will have to watch me suffer.”
So, earlier in the week, the doctors removed Audrey from her mega doses of pain killers so her mind would be clear, but her pain became excruciating. In the early afternoon of Friday, a small group of close friends gathered to say good bye to her. Her friends reported, “Audrey’s death was the beautiful, end of life experience she wanted.”
It is comforting to me that the incarnate God can be broken in his heart and soul the way Audrey’s friends were. We are told that ‘Jesus weeps.’ Shortest verse in the whole Bible. ‘Jesus weeps.’ Yet, it is a verse filled with Titanic significance. Jesus does not approach death and a village’s pain with Spock-like lack of emotion. He enters it. He weeps with them. He mourns with them. Ultimately, he is angered by it and rejects it. Jesus asks them to open Lazarus’ the tomb. “But, Lord, by now he will stink, having been dead now for 4 days.” Death stinks. No amount of perfume or pat answers can remove the stink. Jesus shouts into the tomb and a man covered in the stench of death comes shuffling out. A man who needs his friends to help him out of his grave clothes and help him to get cleaned up.
There are two wisdoms in the story that speak to us in our day.
Yeah, I did it again. I threw another new hymn at you. At least this time, it is to music that you know. I want you to know that I don’t do these things out of any warped sense of amusement. Listen to the words of the second verse:
Now I can hear the voice of Jesus calling,
but it is not the Saviour’s voice alone,
for others share their words as tears are falling.
Collectively, they roll away the stone.
Collectively, they roll away the stone. If it is true, that it takes a village to raise a child, then it is equally true that it takes a village to save a soul. Jesus makes this infinitely clear. Salvation comes from love, more specifically when you love your neighbour as yourself.
The Glory of God proclaimed in this story is the glory of having your incarnate God entering into the pain, the mourning, the grief of an entire community. It was the love of the entire community, the love they had for their neighbour, that proclaimed the Glory of God by defeating death and resurrecting Lazarus.
The second wisdom we need to hear is that loving your neighbour is never for the sake of inheriting an eternal life after death. Lazarus’ resurrection happened in the present tense. The here and now. The raising of Lazarus by God’s love helps us to realize that resurrection is not just a future promise made to us, but our present reality.
Hold these two wisdoms close as you view the following video. I will forewarn you that some of this video is a little graphic and will make you feel uncomfortable, as we should.
People are trying to tell us that religion is relevant today. That it is an ideology that no longer serves a purpose. I won’t be around to see the year 2050, but my children will be. Most definitely my grandchildren will be living in a world where there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The operative commandment in the world today is “hate your neighbour,” “live for yourself” and “don’t allow yourself to feel what others are feeling.”
Death to many has become acceptable for many. The worth of another is being assessed consistently and completely outside of God’s mandate. Sociologist are telling us today that humanity is walking towards an abyss from which there is no turning back. As we witnessed the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the caravan of migrants, the ashes of Matthew Shepard being interred at the National Cathedral after 20 years; that loving your neighbour as yourself, entering into relationship with others is clearly the means by which we fight off death every day. Without this mandate, these wisdoms that Lazarus is trying to teach us, will allow death to infringe on our lives prematurely.
At the risk of repeating myself, I say to you that loving your neighbour as yourself, weeping and mourning with them, is never for the sake of inheriting eternal life after death, but is a means by which death is overcome today. We don’t have the luxury of waiting until tomorrow.
Here is our hope. There is no death, or grief, or fear so deep and dark that the voice of Jesus cannot reach into it, call us out, and bring us life.