Based on the Gospel reading, John 11:20-27
When someone dies suddenly, you often hear, “At least they didn’t suffer”. When someone dies after a long illness, you often hear “At least they are no longer suffering.” From the perspective of our mortal lives in this world, we look at things according to how easy or difficult it is – how much we enjoy it, or how much we suffer through it. This isn’t just a way to try to find some sort of comfort in our grief. We seek to avoid suffering. Our Lord Jesus himself asked that the cup of suffering be taken from him if possible. He did not want to endure the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion. Even he asked if their was a way to avoid suffering, crucifixion, and death. The answer comes minutes later when the temple guards arrive to arrest him. It is the only way. He submits himself to his father’s will. Not all suffering is inherently bad. But it is hard – and oftentimes impossible – to see its value from this side of eternity. And even when Jesus knew how important it was that he fulfill the will of his Father, it was not easy to face.
Martha endured a lot in the last few years. Of what value could such suffering be? A question she asked. Answers like that that must wait until the resurrection. It was a chance for her family to care for her, as she had cared for them all those years. It was a chance to show love to her. A chance on her part to strengthen her faith, as she saw every earthly prop give way – and even her own body betrayed her.
The words of the apostle ring true: we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Martha prayed every day for such a thing. Not that she would cut short the precious life God had given her, but that he would, in his mercy, take her home, and away from the suffering of this world.
Martha was quote open about the meaning of her name. She figured her parents had gotten it right. She was a Martha – as Luke records, “Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
And yet in the book of John, it is to Martha, not Mary that Jesus speaks those words of such comfort. When Lazarus had died, and Mary and Martha were grieving, Jesus speaks so clearly about the hope of the resurrection – and it is not to Mary. It is to Martha. With Mary, he weeps. A sympathetic reaction to seeing her grief. But Martha is made of sterner stuff. She can handle the truth, even at this time of immense loss. And the truth is, her brother is not dead. He is sleeping. He lived, and lives and will live in Jesus. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” It isn’t that Lazarus will be raised some day out there at the resurrection, and then everything will be better. It’s that Lazarus is not dead. Oh, he is dead to this world. His body was in the grave. Had Jesus not brought him out, it would have decayed like any other. No more Lazarus to talk to, to laugh with, no more. But that’s only as we see things. Lazarus still lives because he looked to Jesus for his salvation. And Jesus is life.
That’s why Paul can say to live is Christ, to die is gain. Death is the enemy. We can not defeat it. And we don’t do better to go quietly into it, or to rage against it. Our opinion of death, and how we treat it really doesn’t get us anything. Jesus – he takes that enemy of death and he defeats it. We can go into death confidently because of his work on our behalf.
This weekend the world is making final preparations for Christmas. But Christmas isn’t about precious moments gathered around the tree with the twinkling lights. All of that is fun – but it exists to point us to something far greater – the light of the world descended and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How much does God hate death? He sent his own son into death to destroy it. And Monday we remember again the great honor that we have received in having Jesus become one of us. It was necessary for him to do that, so that he could defeat death for us. God becoming human, so that death would be undone. That’s the sort of love Jesus has for us. That he would suffer AND die so that we could face death without fear.
It’s the resurrection of Jesus that changes everything for us. The grave’s power is broken. In a few minutes we will head out to the cemetery and place Martha’s mortal remains in their final resting place. This isn’t just a ritual to give us closure. We do it in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. And hope here doesn’t mean “I hope I get a good gift for Christmas.” That’s wishing. “I wish to receive a good gift for Christmas”. We aren’t heading out in the cold and wind today so we can wish upon a star. We are out there placing the body that God created, redeemed, and sanctifed to rest, knowing – as surely as we know the sun will rise in the morning and set at night – knowing that Jesus will return and raise her in a new body to a new life, just as he promises for all those who look to him for salvation, and not to their own works.
Martha had just a faith. It was given to her in the waters of Holy Baptism. She was clothed in Christ, and made a precious child of her heavenly Father. Not for any of her works or merits, but solely for Jesus sake. She knew, long before she was afflicted with so much, she knew that when she died she would be in the presence of God. She knew she would be taken home. No more work or effort to be done, because Jesus has done it all.
The same Jesus who came in a manger, who would die on a cross, and be raised from the tomb. The same Jesus who sustained and comforted Martha even as she lay suffering in this world. This is the Jesus who speaks to you his word of comfort this day, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” The Gospel reading doesn’t end there. Jesus asks Martha a question, “Do you believe this?” And Martha of old gives the great confession of faith – the same confession that our beloved Martha gave time and again, and that she now sings in glory around the throne of God and the Lamb, “Yes Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, The son of God, who has come into the world.”
May God grant to each of us such a faith as Martha had. And may he grant to each of us such a blessed end. In Jesus Name and for His sake.