Job 19; John 12
Rev Jeremy Bevan
As we remember this afternoon those we have loved but who are no longer with us, some
complex emotions may be welling to the surface again. This is a very proper place in which
to acknowledge them. Our two Bible readings are full of such emotions.
In our first reading, Job in his terrible death-like suffering cries out for someone to stand by
him as illness and calamity batter him. Casting around in his despair, he hopes that things
may turn right-side up for him before he dies, but senses they may not, that somehow only
after his death may all be as it should.
In the second reading we heard, Jesus arrives four days after his dear friend, Lazarus, dies.
Martha and Mary, the sisters of the dead man, point out that, if Jesus had been there, their
brother would not have died. Others among the mourners wonder why Jesus, the renowned
miracle-worker, was not able to keep Lazarus from dying? And Jesus weeps, not immune to
the emotions surrounding death that we have all experienced.
Despair and hope, regret and doubt. But amid the swirling currents of emotion, we glimpse
something else – something like a rock you might catch sight of out to sea, as the tide swells
and heaves. Job glimpses that rock far off, hard to make out, but nevertheless more than an
illusion: he will see God for himself. But in our gospel reading, Jesus declares that he himself
is that solid ground, the sure foundation of a future lived in the presence of God that was so
sketchy for Job: “I am the resurrection and the life”, he says to Martha.
Our gospel passage describes Jesus as ‘greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved’. It’s as
though death angers him, stirs the one who is life, the very antithesis of death, to resist all
its decay and denial of relationship. When he goes on to raise Lazarus from death further on
in the gospel, his words “unbind him, let him go” signal God’s love for all He has made, and
a protest against death’s power. This is the work of the God whose fundamental, deepest
desire is to give life. As he dispels the darkness from Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus declares that the
life of God in him, the Son of the Living God, is utterly irrepressible, and will endure. And the
raising of Lazarus points us forward to Jesus’ own resurrection, the ultimate guarantee that
death will not have the last word.
In commending our departed loved ones to God, then, we do not cast them adrift onto a sea
of uncertainty in a rudderless ship. Rather, we place them in the sure and certain protection
of Jesus the rock, who has promised both to hold them fast and not to lose any of those his
Father has entrusted to his loving care. His is the promise that they will be gathered up into
the future life of God beyond this life. This is Jesus doing what he came to do. Through him,
God has long been reconciling, is reconciling now, and will continue to reconcile all things to
The Bible doesn’t speculate at any length about how that gathering up into the life of God
will happen. It acknowledges that now, a bit like Job, we understand such things only dimly,
‘through a glass darkly’, as though through a window needing a bit of a clean. The promise,
though, is that we shall ultimately behold God ‘face to face’. The words ‘face to face’ tell us
something completely in line with what Job was inching towards, what Jesus demonstrated
in lovingly restoring his friend Lazarus to life: being gathered up into the life of God will be a
loving, personal encounter with the God who loves us, who created us to be in relationship
with Him, and longs for that relationship to become ever fuller.
John’s gospel tells us God so loved the world that he gave his only son (Jesus) in order that
people should not live aimlessly and hopelessly, but enjoy the fullest possible life, not just
after they die, but now. That life is possible for “everyone who lives and believes in me”, as
Jesus says to Martha. Christian faith claims that the fullest possible life ensues when we put
trust, confidence and hope in Jesus. And because God is love, unlimited love, we can be sure
that love will go as far as it possibly can, for as long as it possibly can, to draw and to attract
people toward God. Perhaps that’s something God will continue to do with people even in
the life that is beyond this one? As we commend our loved ones this afternoon into the safe
and rock-steady hands of Jesus and so to God, may we place our own lives also into those
hands to receive his comfort, and his life – life in all its fulness.