In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this? This question that Jesus poses to Martha is not in our Gospel reading today, but it’s not very far away. It comes just before, close enough to haunt us, to plague our miraculous story of resurrection with doubt. Jesus doesn’t generate the doubt by asking this question; he looks deep into Martha’s human heart, her very human faith, and sees a hesitation, a misgiving, that he identifies and confronts with the truth of the resurrection, and a simple question. Do you believe this?
Indeed, this question, I wager, is never far away from us, most of the time sitting just outside our consciousness, waiting for something to happen that will bring it roaring back into view. A global pandemic. Climate change. You learn that your friend has a terminal illness. Your parents die. You come to that necessary and universal realization that you, too, one day will die. Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?
We live in a world that we believe is shorn of mystery, our knowledge sure, based on science and observation, and in some ways, we’re not wrong. We don’t baptize our babies because we think that if we don’t, they’ll die and go to limbo. We don’t take the Eucharist because we think it will magically cure us of our physical illnesses. We don’t call exorcists when we feel bad to rid us of evil spirits because, as philosopher Charles Taylor writes about in his book “A Secular Age,” we simply don’t live in that world anymore. The conditions that made those beliefs possible are mostly gone, and many of us find it frequently difficult to believe in transcendence, in resurrection. Do you believe this?
But, as the Queen says to Alice in “Through the Looking Glass,” sometimes we believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. The things we think were sure are inherently uncertain. Science itself is artful and works in questions, suggestion, theories, and percentages, albeit based on very good observation. Words like truth, fact, history, and story fade into each other, and what we’re left with is the impression that nothing is ultimately knowable.
And yet. As persistent a companion as doubt is to most of us, it’s that very doubt that is a sign, an essential element even, of our belief. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s no faith, and some of the Church’s greatest saints have been some of its most significant doubters, from Saint Thomas’s refusal to believe unless he saw and touched the wounds in Jesus’ side, to St. John of the Cross’s dark night of the soul. Do you believe this? Our saints have always responded with, not all the time, no.
Even Martha, when Jesus asks her this, sidesteps the situational question by pointing to the ultimate truth. Do you believe this, Jesus asks, and Martha replies, I believe you are the Messiah. True? Sure, cosmically so, but it falls short of what Jesus is asking her. Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life. I’m going to raise your brother, laying in that cave wrapped up in graveclothes, from the dead before your eyes. Do you believe this? And she balks.
But Jesus does it anyway. Surrounded by those who question why he let Lazarus die in the first place, standing by Mary and Martha as they weep for their brother, and weeping himself for his friend, Jesus cries, “Lazarus, come out.” And that dead body gets up at his command and does exactly as it’s told, because Death is no match for resurrection.
Even still, after seeing Lazarus raise from the dead, and Jesus too raise from the dead, there were still people for whom this was not enough to overcome doubt. Those faithful doubters, those doubting faithful, they are the saints we celebrate today, the very ones who founded the Christian Church, who received the Spirit at Pentecost, who have watered and watched God give the growth, and who are the reason we are here at St. James today. They are our friends and our family. On this All Saints Day, and looking forward to next week’s 100th anniversary celebration, Jesus brings that ever-nagging question into our awareness, “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” If you’re here today and you do, we as a community rejoice with you. If you’re here and you don’t, we’re here united in God’s Spirit to help believe you through. Because the truth of Lazarus’s resurrection and the glorious reality of All Saints Day is ultimately that no doubt you can muster or death you can think of is more powerful than God, than resurrection, than life. And for that, thanks be to God. Amen.
The Rev. Dillon Green
November 7, 2021
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS