The Gospel of John provides so many possibilities for the Christian funeral. If the mourning community likes a story, why not select excerpts from the raising of Lazarus? Today’s passage highlights the conversation of the Lord with Martha of Bethany. Martha confronts Jesus, then accepts and receives his reassurance. Her conclusion? A statement of faith not unlike the one uttered by Peter (Matthew 16:16).
[When Jesus arrived in Bethany,
he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem,
only about two miles away.
And many of the people had come to Martha and Mary
to comfort them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.]
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me
will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him,
I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”
There is an option for a shorter reading, omitting verses 17-20, the bracketed text above. I really don’t know why one choose to read that. While the story of the raising of Lazarus is familiar to most believers, and this passage, after all, is about Martha and her faith, I think those verses are an important way to refresh memories about this encounter.
The heart of this passage really begins with Martha’s challenge. Is it a simple statement of faith? A reminder intended to sting her friend? Perhaps she is questioning his commitment to her family. Without seeing her body language, it is impossible to know. Perhaps it is all three.
A mourning community will have these kinds of mixed feelings. Some might feel God had the power to save their loved one. Some will be angry with God for not doing so. Others will question God’s love–assuming that because God didn’t “save” the deceased that he has withheld his love in some way.
On second thought, this passage might be untimely for many funerals. Martha confronts Jesus, but her profession of faith is very close to the surface–if we take this brief encounter literally. Many Christians speak of Jesus as friend. And he is that, no doubt. Jesus is also the Son of God, and this relationship with the Father and with believers is something that transcends friendship. If we are prepared to acknowledge Jesus is more than a friend who comes at our beckoning, who does small chores and duties for us, then perhaps we are ready for a relationship with the one who is “the resurrection and the life.”
Maybe this passage is better saved for later in the grieving process, after we have taken Martha’s path of denial (Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died), then bargaining (But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you), then a somewhat stiff recitation of what she “should” know (I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day), giving way to a final and more heartfelt creed (I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world).