4/6/2014 Fifth Sunday in Lent The text for today’s sermon is taken from John 11:1-45 and Romans 8:6-11
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Lazarus, come out!” These are powerful words. They are a call to life. With these words, death is defied. With these words, stinking, rotting flesh and bones are given new life. Just as God spoke in creation and it was so…and life began. Jesus speaks and it is so…and life begins again.
“Lazarus, come out!” And a man who had been dead for four days, whose body was bound in burial clothes, rises up and scurries out of the tomb. People stand in awe and have to be instructed to unbind this man so that he can resume life.
This is a resurrection – for that which was dead is alive again. But this is not an Easter resurrection. It is a sign of God’s power over death, yet, it is only a sign of what is to come. Although Lazarus’ life is restored in the flesh, he will die again, according to the flesh. It is in Jesus Christ that we have a hope for something other than an unexplainable miracle. In him we have the promise of a new life which will be lived eternally in the Father’s house, and a new body which is imperishable, unchanging throughout eternity.
When I was young and I heard about that new life and the new body that goes with it, I pondered about it. I began to wonder what that body should look like. If I had a choice, it would be the body of my dreams: young, muscular, a little prettier than real life, a little taller, and a whole lot thinner than what I now have. But, now that I’m a little older, I figure that really doesn’t matter. What is important is that the life that is to come will be in a complete and loving relationship with God and all the saints. There will be no more bickering, no more struggle with bad feet, no more aches and pain of an aging body, no more sorrow, no more feelings of inadequacy, no more measuring up to some else’s expectations. I will be in a place where all are loved; a place where all are content and at peace.
But, that is not the type of life, the type of resurrection life that Lazarus experiences when he is called back into the living. Stephen Mitchell imagines what Lazarus feels when he hears the Lord’s call to come out. In his version of the Lazarus story, Lazarus’ soul has almost completed the journey through “the tunnel” to a blissful state, when he hears Jesus’ cry, “Come out!” He writes, “The voice is filled with love but also with sorrow and pity, and not so much fear of death as resistance to it, as if it is an enemy to be expelled or overcome…he (Lazarus) doesn’t have the heart to refuse. He knows that for his friend’s sake, he will have to postpone his disappearance, to hurry back down the tunnel and return to his body, which has already begun to stink.”
I don’t imagine that Lazarus’ life after this resurrection is any picnic. His body must have been anything but pretty. People may have been frightened by him as they have never encountered a resurrected person in their life time. Others may have been curious and still others may have wanted him back in the tomb forever. And I am sure that there are a curious bunch of people who just want to touch him to be sure that he is real. But no matter what people think and expect, and no matter what Lazarus himself wants, he comes out and finds himself among the living. He lives. He lives for an unidentified number of years only to die again. But this time, he will die without fear in the sure and certain hope and promise of being raised again with all the saints on the last day.
So why did Jesus bother to raise this man? Why did Jesus raise him only for him to struggle, to suffer and to die again? It hardly seems fair. Yet, in this resurrection, God’s glory shines and through it, the Son of God is glorified. There remains no option…no more fence sitting…Jesus can no longer be dismissed as just another miracle worker, teacher, or prophet. In Jesus Christ there is proven to be the power of God. For only God can bring life from death. Only God can make those dry bones live. Only God can call forth life from a rancid tomb. Only God can call us forth, unbind us, and send us into the world as freed and renewed people.
It is as death strikes, that Jesus conspires to bring about life, and yet, as life is given, people conspire to bring about his death. In Jesus, God shows himself to be not only the Lord of the Jewish people, but also the Lord of life who has the power to overcome death. And yet, the power of Jesus to defeat the greatest enemy of humankind, mortality, will not come to completion until the Son of God is glorified again on the cross of Calvary. It will not come to completion until Jesus himself takes upon his shoulders the consequences of our sin, experiencing our death and overcoming it. For, Jesus does not just bring about a resurrection, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus proclaims this in the midst of a tragic event. For, it just may be that the only time in which these words make sense to us at all is at the grave of a friend, a parent, a child, a spouse, a loved one whose death has touched our hearts.
We have been there, you and I. We have picked up the phone and heard those words that cause our hearts to break. We have stood around hospital rooms, shifting our weight from foot to foot, and watched helplessly as the shadow of death overtakes another. We have congregated at graves and lowered caskets into the earth and felt the tears running down our faces. And we have realized that we move closer and closer every day to our own deaths.
It is in those real moments, when death slaps us in the face and we find ourselves powerless and overcome with grief, that Jesus speaks to our hearts and comforts us with the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe in the power of God to overcome death? Do you believe in the power of Jesus, the Son of God, to give you and those you love new life? Do you believe in the Spirit of God that dwells in each of us? For, if the spirit of he who raised Lazarus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal body. Do you believe this?
We may think of this life only in the terms of the future – after we have died. But, Jesus calls us forth to live every day in his promise. Jesus calls us from the self-made tombs in which we live, tombs in which we hide, and tombs which keep us bound by attempts to meet the expectations of others, to claw our way to the top, to glorify ourselves, or tombs which keep us bound by self-pity. Jesus calls us forth from our self-made tombs, whatever they may look like, in order to give us new life in which we are free to grow in God’s grace. For, the life we have among the living is a gift from God. It is a life worth having even if it is not perfect and doesn’t fulfill our fantasies. For, in the end, it doesn’t matter if we are tall, or pretty, or rich, or smart, or thin, or athletic, or anything else – we are children of God who have been called forth by Jesus to enter the struggles of life, in order to bear witness to the one whose words can be trusted. Do you believe this?
In your believing, may you hear the call of Jesus and come out from hiding in order to live. For, Jesus calls us to come out and give glory to him who is the resurrection and the life of the world to come. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.