The final words of my last sermon when I spoke to the wider community of All Saints ordinands.
Believe in something.
Part way through the story we had read Jesus prompts Martha to say what it is she believes in. And somehow Martha arrives at a statement that makes her the first person to really understand who Jesus is. She moves all the way from "If you'd come when I asked this wouldn't have happened" to "you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming". From scepticism - "If you had only come", to belief "you are the coming one." Not simply you have yet to come, but you have come, you do come and you will come.
It seems that throughout the church's history, Martha has been the "busy one", the one who couldn't stop and listen to Jesus. She has a bad reputation in some ways. There isn't much you can do with Martha's story either, she didn't set an example of quiet listening; she didn't use expensive perfume to anoint Jesus' feet. By the time John was writing this was probably the established church narrative about Martha and Mary. Martha, it seems, was the solid, boring type; dependable, but unexciting.
Yet John gives us some clues as to how to look at Martha differently. First he tells us that Jesus loved Martha - and her sister. Jesus loved Martha. It's easy to look around at other people and see why they might have been selected for ordination, why God might call them, but (for me at least) I really struggled to see why God, or the church might want me to be ordained. I can see good things in other people, but I struggle to see the same things in myself.
It's Martha who realises who Jesus is. And she does it because she is engaged with what is going on around her. She hasn't separated herself from the crowd, she is part of it. It's only when she goes to meet Jesus on the road, that she appears to be alone with Him and he calls out of her a believing she didn't know she had.
There are some things we just know, I think. Without evidence, without rational thought, without demonstration - we just know somethings to be true. I understand from a Jewish friend, that there is a Hebrew word for this kind of knowing. It means something like you know in your knower - whatever part of us it is that knows, thats where we know some things. It's a different kind of knowing from being aware that 2+2 usually make 4, or that a deadline is on the horizon, or that a friend needs us to have coffee with them, or that summer is coming. It's a more centred knowing, a knowing that forms us into who we are. It happens when we believe in something, or perhaps I should say someone.
I can almost picture Martha getting to the end of her sentence and stopping, surprised, thinking "did I really say that? where did that come from?" she had brought to her consciousness a knowing that had already formed.
That he is the Christ who comes.
And then we learn something else about Martha.
"When she had said this she went and called her sister Mary, privately .. The Teacher is calling for you." Maybe you feel a bit like Mary.
A bad thing has happened, and her friend has let her down. She doesn't go out to meet him. Perhaps she's resentful? Or sulking? or just unsure?
Whatever Mary is feeling she seems to be in the dark. Her brother has died, Jesus did not come when asked, her friends are gathered around her to comfort her. She is in a dark place.
One of the books I loved reading last year was Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. She says:
“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
We do need dark times, but we also need friends like Martha to call us out of the dark times; to make us aware that Jesus comes to us.
Once Martha has realised that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who comes, she goes to her sister and tells her "Jesus has come for you too." And Mary believes enough to respond and go to meet Jesus on the road.
It's no accident that they meet on the road, Martha who has voiced her more developed belief; Mary who has responded to Martha's invitation "Jesus has come for you"; and Jesus. Jesus and his disciples don't make it to the village, Mary and Martha end up going where they hadn't intended to go - they all end up somewhere different, because they are together.
There's one more member of this small community as it travels together that I want to mention.
If AA Milne had written about Jesus' disciples Thomas would have been Eeyore, wouldn't he? At the start of the story Jesus is in a different community. He's with his disciples. They're feeling a bit vulnerable, because not long ago some people tried to kill Jesus. So when the message comes that Lazarus is ill and Jesus tells them he's just sleeping, they're inclined to leave well alone. "If things are fine, let's not get involved." Then it gets a bit embarrassing because Jesus says actually Lazarus is dead, and there's a conflict in each of them - following Jesus, yes, but not wanting to be so committed that things get awkward. Nervousness and a desire to keep things stable, mixed with knowing that they should go.
Finally, Thomas, that great motivational speaker, pipes up "let's go with him so that we may die".
What might we have said? "Come on, it'll probably end in tears, but a deal's a deal and we said we'd follow him." Neither Thomas nor the other disciples seem to want to be where they are going. They are reluctant, resentful even. But because Thomas manages to be resentfully obedient they go. And what do they see? The first resurrection!
For Thomas and the others Jesus had already come, in some ways. But they needed to understand that Jesus is not only the Christ who has come, but also the Christ who comes. The anxiety of the world beginning to turn against Jesus raised questions for them, but as they followed, however reluctantly, they saw new things.
Today we come together as part of the wider All Saints community to form a unique community. A community of people coming to the end of their studies with us; a community of people here both to learn and to meditate and to remember the events of Easter in a way that we never have before and never will do again; a community of people soon to be ordained into ministry in the Church of England.
Our personalities, our faith, our stories will affect how we contribute to the formation of that community, just as the characters within the story we just read affect what happens in it.
I don't believe that this is just Easter School. I don't believe that this is just a course requirement. I don't believe that this is an imposition on time we should be spending at home. I don't believe that this is the precursor to the blessed relief of some time off.
I believe that each of us is called to this community. I believe that each of us is called to be part of this community. I believe that there is potential in this community for each of us to gain a deeper knowledge of Jesus to call others into that same place to journey with others and with Jesus to a place we might otherwise not have gone
But I also believe this. In order for any of us to help build this community so that we can fulfil our potential as disciples, and leave with a renewed and deepened faith, we have, like Martha, Mary and even Thomas, to believe something just enough to make us act on it. We need individually to be committed to the best of what this week might bring.
There is a chance to respond in the next few moment. If it helps you to write something down, there are pencils and paper available. If you would prefer to be silent and listen to the music please do that. There is no pressure. Just a question, what - for God's sake and for the sake of others - do you believe you are called to this week?