This Is Us

Perhaps you have gotten caught up in the phenomenon of NBC’s new family drama, “This Is Us.” Roger and I are hooked, along with mthis_is_us_textuch of America if the internet can be believed.

The show features the Pearson family: a set of triplets, now three adult siblings, who have an interesting birth story (one of the three is not like the others!) plus parents Jack and Rebecca. Each week, we are transported back and forth through the years as the family history is revealed and the layers of time and relationship are peeled back. The story as a whole remains shrouded in mystery; we catch glimpses here and there. By paying attention to the clues, we begin to understand bit by bit.

The show is masterful. “This Is Us” draws us ever deeper into the beautiful story of one family with every episode. It is an equal opportunity heart-tugger. Not a week goes by that we don’t both laugh and cry.
Even the name of the show is brilliant. As the closing credits roll, we realize that in various ways “This Is Us.”
We are the Pearsons.
THIS. IS. US.
Not only are we the Pearsons in the sense that every family is messy and beautiful, but…
We are Mom Rebecca who seeks to do the right thing and still screws up.
We are Dad Jack who doesn’t always know how to express his emotions.
We are son Randall who struggles with perfectionism and sometimes debilitating anxiety.
We are daughter Kate who eats all her feelings and carries guilt for the family’s pain and loss.
We are son Kevin who desperately wants people to see past his appearance to his heart and ability.
We are these parents who love each other fiercely but still periodically fall apart.
We are dying birth father William on a journey to make amends.
We are people who long for reconciliation with ourselves and others but just don’t know how to make it happen.
THIS. IS. US.

Today’s gospel lesson is perhaps so familiar that it no longer moves us, or maybe it never made sense. Our story is about another family: another family with three adult siblings. And it has everything: drama, conflict, suspense, sorrow, and ultimately joy. As I read and reflected this week, I couldn’t help but realize that “This Is Us.” Before the end of our time together, I believe you’ll see it too.
THIS. IS. US.

The Word of the Lord from John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33-45 (CEB)-

3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, 7 he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”
40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him.

Not unlike the writers of “This Is Us,” John is a masterful storyteller. From the beginning of his gospel he told us “What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.” Last week we read and heard about the man born blind; Jesus – the Light for all people – gave light to the man’s eyes. Today we read about Lazarus who died and was buried; Jesus – the Word that was Life – returned life to his body. John intends for us to see ourselves. We are blind. We are dead. THIS. IS. US.

But there is more here than can be captured by a statement as simple as that. If we are truly meant to see ourselves, there are layers to peel back, mystery to consider, emotions to experience, deep truths to understand, and eternal hope to find.

We are these siblings, thus deeply and profoundly loved by Jesus. The messenger comes to Jesus: the one you love is sick. Plus, our author states emphatically two verses later that Martha, Mary, & Lazarus are loved by the Lord. Jesus’ outpouring of emotions – his tears – at the tomb again affirm his great love for his friends.
THIS. IS. US.

We are these sisters and disciples, thus incapable of fully understanding the mysteries of God’s work in the world and in our lives. Notice that Jesus “tarried;” he did not immediately respond to the need and call of those that he loved. The disciples with him failed to understand, and both sisters expressed dismay and confusion at his late arrival.
THIS. IS. US.

We are these witnesses and followers, thus slow to believe until we see obvious signs. The crowd finally believed in Jesus but not until after Lazarus walked out of the tomb. No doubt many among them had seen Jesus on numerous previous occasions, but they were reluctant to fully trust and wholeheartedly believe.
THIS. IS. US.

Perhaps our greatest point of connection, though, rests with the dead man.
We are truly Lazarus.

Because we’ve always read this story while knowing the outcome, we’ve probably missed the significance of the tale altogether. We’ve heard it from the time we were little children.

Lazarus was ill. Jesus waited to go to him. Lazarus died. Jesus arrived 4 days after he was buried. Martha and Mary were indignant in their grief. Jesus wept. Jesus prayed. Jesus called Lazarus to life. The end. Move onto the next story.

But we mustn’t. The raising of Lazarus is no commonplace occurrence. He died a real human death. The community buried him in a real tomb. He lay there for 4 days.

To the people of Jesus’ day, this is a miracle of miracles. The ancient Jews believed that one’s soul lingered over the body for 3 days after death, and during those days there was hope for resuscitation. But on the 4th day, all hope was abandoned. The 4th day signaled utter hopelessness. Death trampled hope on the 4th day.

But on this 4th day when Lazarus was beyond hope and when he was gone for good, Jesus showed up.

And in one command Jesus brought life out of death – hope out of hopelessness – light out of darkness – freedom out of bondage.

THIS. IS. US.

We are all Lazarus in one way or another. We have been dead and lifeless in our sin and selfishness. We have been bound and wrapped by the grave clothes of a fallen world’s expectations. We have laid in the darkness of despair and begun to smell like our bad choices. We have come to the 4th day, looked at our lives, and wondered if there was anything that could stave off the decay of our bodies and breathe hope into our souls.

THIS. IS. US.

Because we are Lazarus, we can be assured that Jesus loves us deeply.
Because we are Lazarus, we can have hope for all our 4th days.
Because we are Lazarus, we can be certain that Jesus is who he claimed to be – the Resurrection and the Life.
Because we are Lazarus, we can see others from his perspective.

Every single human being is deeply, profoundly loved by Jesus, and no one, no one, is ever beyond hope.

The good news for today and every day is that Jesus Christ is still calling forth life and hope in dead hopeless people. We know this is true because…

THIS. IS. US.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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