An Easter Proclamation – John 11

This Easter, I’ve been given the privilege of speaking at our church’s sunrise service. Here it is:

In John chapter 11 we read the story of a family in grief. Mary and Martha watched their brother Lazarus suffer with sickness. They called out to Jesus for help, saying, “The one you love is sick.” Jesus responded and kindled the hopes of the two sisters. He assured them: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus promised life.

But by all appearances, Jesus did not keep his promise. While Mary and Martha sat at the bedside of their dying brother, Jesus did not arrive. He did not show up until four days after Lazarus was buried. Martha’s frustration was apparent. “If you had only come sooner, my brother would not have died.” Mary was frank as well. “If you had only come sooner, my brother would not have died.”

We live in a world of grief. Sickness, death, war, disease – they are all part of our world. Countries are embroiled in ethnic wars. Madmen dictators drive their nations into poverty. Sure, these things are all distant problems that we hear about on the news, but they are still real – no less real than the pain felt by people here in Gloucester. Abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction ruin lives and tare apart families. Our world, our town cries out to God, “If you had only come sooner, my child would not have died.” “If you had only come sooner, my family would still be together.” “If you had only come sooner, my life would not be in ruins.” “If you had only come sooner – God – we would not be in this mess.” If many of us were honest, we would sound a lot like Mary and Martha.

Jesus’ response in Bethany is the same response he has for us today. In response to Mary’s grief, “Jesus wept.” Jesus was not aloof. He shared their grief. This is the same response that God himself gave our world when he sent his son. Rather than standing aloof, he sent Jesus to live among us, to experience life, grief and disappointment, and ultimately to face the horrors of our world in death on the cross.

But we know from rest of the story that this is not God’s final response. Jesus assured Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even in death.” God’s final answer is life. His final answer is resurrection. Jesus promised Mary and Martha that the glory of God would be shown even in the death of their brother. He assured them at the grave, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” He called them to trust in him.

While Jesus came into this world to suffer along side us, he also came to embody life itself. He healed the sick and proclaimed liberty to the captives. His resurrection asserted God’s victory over the powers of darkness.

God does not simply answer a world of sin and death with empathy, he answers with life giving power.

Just as Jesus called Mary and Martha to believe, he calls us today to stake our lives in him – the one who embodies God’s resurrection power. As we believe in him, we are brought to see the glory of God. Jesus called Lazarus from the grave. He spoke life into death. Today he speaks life into our own dead situations. He speaks life into our own shattered dreams by replacing them with his own dreams for us. He speaks life into our families through reconciliation and healing. He speaks life into Gloucester as he asserts God’s rule over addiction and abuse.

This Easter he is resurrection. He is life. Believe in him, even in the midst of death, and you will live. Trust in him, and you will see the glory of God.

Star light! Star bright! Make me a Talmud scholar tonight!

James Davila at Paleojudaica notes that Madonna supposedly cited the Talmud in her recent acceptance speech at her induction into the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame. The pop star stated:

There’s a saying in the Talmud that for every blade of glass there’s an angel that watches over it and whispers grow, grow. And I could still hear those angels whispering. And even the naysayers, the ones that said I was talentless, that I was chubby, that I couldn’t sing, that I was a one hit wonder, they helped me too. (Quoted from “The Bangkok Jungle“)

Well, it turns out that the “Material Girl” was a bit mistaken. She did not quote from the Talmud, but from the Zohar:

The Holy One brings out all the hosts, camps, and stars, each one is called by its own name, and “not one faileth” (Isa 40:26). Over all these stars and constellations of the firmament there have been set chiefs, leaders, and ministers, whose duty is to serve the world each one according to his appointed station. And not the tiniest grass-blade on earth but has its own appointed star in heaven. Each star, too, has over it a being appointed who ministers before the Holy One as its representative, each according to his order. All the stars in the firmaments keep watch over this world: they are appointed to minister to every individual object in this world, to each object a star. Herbs and trees, gras and wild plants, cannot flourish and grow except from the influence of the stars who stand above them and gaze upon them face to face, each according to his fashon. (Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 171b)

While she’s certainly no Talmud scholar, her lyrics have a new (and potentially more profound) meaning:

You must be my lucky star
‘Cause you make the darkness seem so far
And when I’m lost you’ll be my guide
I just turn around and you’re by my side

Starlight, star bright first star I see tonight
Starlight, (star bright) make everything all right
Starlight, star bright first star I see tonight
Starlight, (star bright) yeah

Come on shine your heavenly body tonight
‘Cause I know you’re gonna make everything all right

Update: Manuscript Boy (from Hagahot) e-mailed Jim Davila of Paleojudaica with the following quote from Genesis Rabbah 10.6:

א”ר סימון אין לך כל עשב ועשב ברקיע שאין לו מזל ברקיע שמכה אותו ואומר לו גדל

Neusner’s translation:

Said R. Simon, ‘There is not a single herb which is not subject to the influence of a planet in heaven, which smites it and says to it, “Grow!”‘

As Manuscript Boy notes, it’s “Not whispers but beatings. Other than that, it’s pretty close.”