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Reflection April 9, 2017
Lazarus, Come Out!
(Part of Sunday, April 2, Sermon)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
The raising of Lazarus is the most important miracle of Jesus found in the four Gospels. This miracle, found only in John, is the culmination of all that Jesus did in his earthly mission. Nothing else comes close! And the deeper one goes into this miracle - the more astonishing it becomes - the more nourishing for our psyches and souls.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it’s Jesus’ disruption - his cleansing of the Temple - that leads directly to his death. In John, by contrast, it is the raising of Lazarus that hastens his death. Just after Lazarus is raised, we hear these chilling words from the high priest Caiphas - at a hastily called meeting of the leadership of Jerusalem: “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:49-50)
Just before Jesus raises Lazarus, he is on the other side of the Jordan - at the place where John the Baptist had baptized so many. Jesus had withdrawn to this barren place because people in Jerusalem had tried to stone him for blasphemy.
Then word comes to Jesus that Lazarus - his beloved friend - is sick. He waits for a few days before leaving for Bethany (recall that Bethany is but 1.5 miles from Jerusalem - so for Jesus to go back to Bethany means that he will again be placing himself in grave danger.)
Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is dead and that he will go to Bethany. I chuckle at the response of Thomas, the Twin: “Let us also go, that we may die with him!” Not exactly!
So they head up to Bethany. Martha comes out to meet Jesus and what does she say (reading between the lines)? “Lord, I am so very disappointed in you! If you had been here my brother would not have died.”
What is Jesus’ response? His response is the most important proclamation of Jesus found anywhere in the New Testament: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die.” (John11:25-26)
Mary then comes out to Jesus and also says: “Lord, I am so very disappointed in you. If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” His response to Mary is tears and these words: “Where have you laid him?”
So off they go to the tomb. Some of the crowd express their disappointment in Jesus: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Lots of disappointment in Jesus! But we know where this leads - to Lazarus being raised from death to new life.
“Lazarus, come out!” The dead man comes out - still wrapped in burial clothes. Jesus says, “Untie him and let him go!”
So what became of Lazarus? We don’t know. But we do know from John 12:10 that the chief priests make plans to kill Lazarus - as well as Jesus. There is a tradition still honored by our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters as well as our Byzantine Catholic sisters and brothers that the Saturday before Palm Sunday is celebrated as “Lazarus Saturday.” One is supposed to be joyful on that day and also eat caviar! (Caviar, as we know, is fish eggs and eggs are a very old symbol of Easter and Resurrection). So if we choose maybe we can share in this ancient Christian tradition!
Let me try to wrap up the stunning story of Lazarus. Martha and Mary’s question to Jesus is plainly: “Where were you when my brother died?” Is this not also our question?
Jesus, where were you when my father died - leaving me fatherless at a tender age? Jesus, where were you when my beloved Beth died, leaving me spouseless and alone to face an uncertain future? Have we not all asked a similar question of Jesus?
What is Jesus’ response to Martha and Mary’s question? He weeps! This is Jesus’ answer to all our woes - to all our sorrow - to all our suffering: Holy Tears!
Jesus enters deeply into the suffering of Martha and Mary. Jesus does the same for us: he enters deeply into our suffering. And here’s a vital point: God the Father did not rescue his son Jesus from his own suffering - his own profound passion and death.
I do not believe God the Father wanted his son to die in such a disgraceful and horrific way. God, instead, wanted to show us how far Love was willing to go: even to humiliation and death on a cross!
Let me highlight a deep conviction that I’ve stated before: Our God, the Father of our brother Jesus, is not a God who rescues us. Our God, the Father of our brother Jesus, is a God who redeems us. There is a world of difference between these two words.
I wanted with all my heart and soul for God to rescue my beloved Beth from her devastating illness and suffering. But God did not rescue Beth. Yet I believe, heart and soul, that God has redeemed her and brought her to himself.
Tears! Yes, Jesus knows all about tears. Many of us in our beloved congregation know all about tears. Yet we trust with every part of who we are that God is all-loving and all-powerful. And we believe that in the end all will be well. We trust that all our pain will be redeemed in God’s all-loving, all-powerful, eternal embrace.
We trust there will come that time when the Risen Jesus will stand in front of our grave - in front of wherever our bodies rest in dust or ashes - and shout out to us: “Come out! Come out of death! Rise up - body and soul - once more!”
And then my mother, my father, my beloved Beth and every one of us will walk body and soul from where we have been laid. We will finally and eternally be untied from death. Jesus will say: “Untie them and set them free!” And we will then all proclaim together: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!”
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor