5th Sunday in Lent, year A, 2014 (preached April 6, 2014)
first reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
second reading: Romans 8:6-11
gospel reading: John 11:1-45
“Lazarus, come out!” One of the great lines in our faith story. So much is jam packed into those three little words.
In those three little words we see Jesus’ power to physically raise the dead, even after decay has started.
We have only three instances in the New Testament where Jesus raised someone from the dead. There was the son of the widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus.
We have many more instances of Jesus healing disease or physical conditions in living people: people with fevers, demons, issues of blood, blindness, paralysis, leprosy – but only three where he has brought the dead back to life. So this story – and the other two – are pretty rare in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The raising of Lazarus is rich in many different ways. We have Jesus’ purposeful delay in arriving at Bethany. We have the amazing Martha, who is bold to declare, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him,” and even more bold to be the first in Jesus’ inner circle to see the truth of who he is, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
I had a seminary professor who lamented the fact that while the Church has a feast day for the confession of St. Peter, there is none for poor Martha, whose confession is much more amazing since it comes in the midst of death – BEFORE Jesus performs the miracle. He also suggested that instead of this passage being referred to as “the raising of Lazarus” it should be called “the confession of Martha” – but I digress.
We also have the shortest verse in scripture, “Jesus began to weep,” although I find the old translation more poetic, “Jesus wept.” Our Lord felt not only physical pain, but knew emotional pain as well. Our almighty and powerful God experienced the pains of everyday life, so he understands OUR pains. God is not disengaged from our struggles.
Yet this week, in thinking and praying about this passage, I’ve been drawn back to what I said at the beginning: In those three little words, “Lazarus, come out!” we see Jesus’ power to physically raise the dead, even after decay has started.
This is what we see on the surface of the story. But if we take out the obvious, the physical act of restoring life to a lifeless corpse, the same holds true.
The story of Lazarus is the story of us all.
The story of Lazarus is the story of new beginnings, a new chance – what we would literally call a “new lease on life.” In the end, that’s what ALL the healing stories of Jesus present to us – a fresh start, a new lease on life.
It’s just that Lazarus’ story is new life in the extreme. It’s bold, in your face, demanding our attention. When we hear stories today of someone being dead and brought back through our advances in medicine, we are amazed.
We think of the relief loved ones must feel. But we also must wonder how the person will respond to their near death experience. How will they live the rest of their lives, knowing that each day is a gift given back? Will they be able to return to life as normal, as if nothing happened to them, or will they live boldly, making the most of their bonus days?
What do WE do when we’re given a second chance? This is an important question for those of us with faith to ask ourselves. Do you know why? Because we’re given a second chance EVERY DAY.
In those three little words, “Lazarus, come out!” we see Jesus’ power to physically raise the dead, even after decay has started.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – but Jesus does that for our SPIRITS constantly, every day, all the time!
Jesus’ whole “business” is about bringing the dead back to life, each one of us who is dead in sin is constantly given new life in him. Forgiveness, mercy, grace – LOVE – all these bring that which was once dead to life again.
So while we many wonder about those folks who experience the physical act of being dead and brought back to life, we should also wonder about OURSELVES.
Jesus raises US, even in the midst of the death and decay our sin causes.
Lazarus, the widow’s son in Nain, Jairus’ daughter – they got new chances at life. What are we doing with OUR new chance at life? How do we go about OUR lives, knowing that each day is a new beginning in Jesus?
When we confess, even when we confess that we don’t KNOW what to confess – when we cling to the cross, knowing that was OUR fate except that Jesus took it from us – we are given a new life, a new chance.
Jesus takes our dry bones, our decaying souls, and makes them fresh and new.
So with this knowledge, with Jesus coming to you saying, “You were dead, but now you’ve got a new lease on life,” what are you going to do with it?
Do we go on as if nothing happened to us, or do we live boldly, appreciating the gift God has given, acting on our new life to impact the lives of others – to proclaim God’s love in word and deed, so that others who are dead in sin can share in the new life that God’s love and grace can give?
Do our second chances (and third and fourth and fifth chances…) show God our thanks, or do they show God that we think it’s no big deal?
While we were dead in sin, or as we say in our confession, “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!”
“Lisa, come out!”
“Michael, come out!”
“Inge, come out!”
“Florence, come out!”
“Tyler, come out!”