Funeral Homily

John 11:21-27

Jesus Meets Us Here

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John 11:21-27

Jesus Meets Us Here

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

It starts out as one of the worst times of Martha’s life. Her brother Lazarus takes sick and suddenly dies.

She cannot remember a time without Lazarus, even though she can faintly recall before their sister Mary was born. They were a close family growing up. But death is taking them, one after another: first their dad, then mother, now Lazarus. The only one left to share the family home with her is Mary.

Although the death and burial occurred only four days earlier, it seems forever to Martha. The time between then and now feels like a blur. Just about everyone in their village of Bethany came and expressed condolences, but what they said and how they looked is a jumble to her now. Not only people from Bethany, but plenty of people from Jerusalem, a short distance down the road. So many faces. So many words.

It surprises Martha that Jesus from Nazareth, her friend and a friend of her brother and sister, is nowhere to be found. Well, he’s a wandering rabbi. Maybe he’s far away. The news must not have reached him. How sad he’ll be to learn that Lazarus is gone.

Martha’s eyes start to moisten yet again. Then somebody approaches and tells her Jesus is just down the road. Martha gets up and bustles off to greet him.

Once she catches sight of this family friend, the first words out of her mouth are a feisty mixture of criticism and expectation. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” That’s vintage Martha all right. Nobody ever said she was subtle.

Jesus answers with what sounds like a promise. “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha responds curtly; she doesn’t want Religion 101 right now and says so. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha’s not interested in hearing about the future; the unbearable grief of the present moment is ready to overwhelm her for the hundredth time.

It is in this present moment Jesus meets her. He knows the future must take a back seat. And so he announces a present reality: “I am the resurrection and the life.” It is as if he says, “I am that present reality where your brother is flourishing, and I will remain faithful to him and to you forever.”

Some of us here today may be in one of the worst times we’ve ever experienced. Memories in all their richness keep flooding back. The future looks like a blank slate. Unbearable grief is ready to overwhelm us.

Our answer to Jesus may include disappointment and expectation. Why this death? Why now? We cannot be put off by platitudes whether from others or from ourselves.

Jesus makes us a promise. “Your dear one will rise again.” But we’re not interested in the future, in the end of the world. Our present pain is more than enough, far more than we can handle.

It is in this present moment, in our unremitting pain, that Jesus meets us. He announces a reality: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He tells us: “I am that present reality where your loved one is flourishing, and I will remain faithful to both of you forever.”

Jesus says this today to those who grieve.

  • He may address us through scripture and song in this liturgy.
  • He may speak to us in the sacrament of Communion.
  • He may encounter us in the concern shown by a friend.

We may find the present moment more than we can bear. Jesus knows that, and so he meets us here. He offers us himself, promising that together with our loved ones, our greatest flourishing is yet to happen.

  • Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.