When I was young and lost a tooth I’d put the tooth under my pillow because I was told the Tooth Fairy would take it and I’d get a coin in return. At Christmas it was said that Santa Claus would come and bring presents. This time of year, of course, it’s said that the Easter Bunny comes and hides eggs.
I don’t know if I ever believed in the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, but for children, this is the beginning of a whole lifetime of deciding what we do and don’t believe in.
As children get older they face similar questions: Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in UFOs? Do you believe in Bigfoot? Do you believe in angels and demons? Do you believe in God?
All of us face choices of what to believe in and what not to believe in. But what does it mean to “believe in” something? When someone asks if you believe in something they often mean, “Do you think it exists?” Do ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, angels and demons exist? Does God exist?
But what does it mean if someone says they believe in you? Maybe there’s been a time when you were faced with a big challenge and didn’t know if you were up to the challenge. You felt afraid, overwhelmed. And someone who loved you knew the challenge you faced and how difficult it might be for you. They said, “I believe in you!” They’re not saying they believe you exist; they’re saying, “I have confidence in you; I believe that you have what it takes to face this challenge, to overcome your fears and self-doubt. I believe you will succeed.”
This gets closer to what we find in today’s reading from John. To believe in someone is not a matter of the head, but of the heart. It’s an expression of love! If I believe in someone, I love that someone. And yet, the Scriptures lead us to a still deeper understanding of love. To believe in someone means…to trust them.
Trust is an expression of love. It means a willingness to risk putting ourselves in the hands of someone, not completely sure what’s involved and uncertain of what the outcome will be.
Following the death of her brother, 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? He wasn’t looking for religious doctrine. He wasn’t asking Martha to recite a creed or some Bible memory verses. In that moment Jesus was looking for Martha to trust him.
Later, in response to Jesus’ command to roll away the stone, the crowd trusted him enough to do so. They don’t know what good it will do; they don’t know the final outcome; they’re probably scared. But they roll away the stone. They trust in Jesus.
The biggest test of their trust comes after they roll away the stone. Well, how would you respond if you saw what must have looked like a scene straight out of Hollywood: a mummy coming out of the tomb! The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John’s story doesn’t tell us whether they followed through with Jesus’ command. We don’t know if they dared to approach Lazarus, to touch this dead man, to violate all their religious rules about what’s clean and unclean. The end of the story is left for us to fill in with the stories of our own lives. Do we trust in Christ? A good indicator of how much we trust is how much we’re willing to risk. The amount we’re willing to risk for another person is a measure of the amount we’re willing to love.
And love is what it’s all about. When Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus, they said, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Later, as they saw Jesus weeping, those near him said, “See how he loved him!” Jesus, the one who loved deeply, was looking among his friends and among the crowd for a response to his love. He was looking for trust, and a trust that was willing to risk much for the sake of hope and love and healing and life.
As it was then, so it is now. The one who loves us deeply is looking for a response to that love. He’s not looking for us to say that God exists. He’s not looking for doctrine or religious beliefs. He’s looking for love, knowing that love can do miracles; love can do anything. If God is love, God can do anything–in us and through us!– including raising up courage where there is fear, hope where there is despair, joy where there is sorrow, life where there seems to be nothing but death.
The community that met Jesus in today’s story was willing to risk. No doubt afraid of what they might find, they nevertheless trusted in Jesus enough to obey his command to roll away the stone. That simple act was enough to reveal the true power of God’s love, not only to raise a man from the dead but to restore him to his community and to those who loved him.
Our Lenten journey leads to the cross. Along the way some whom Jesus meets believe in him. They trust in him enough to take risks. They risk the criticism of others. They risk breaking their own religious traditions and rules. But their acts of trust lead us to ask this question: What stones are we being asked to roll away for the sake of the hurting, the broken, the outsider, the hopeless, the diseased, and the dead? And, who are we commanded to unbind? And again, In what ways are those who love us standing ready to help unbind us from whatever holds us captive?
What do you believe in? Whom do you trust? Whom do you love? The one who first loved us, not for his own sake but for the sake of the world, is looking to us for a response to his love.