Lent 5. Jesus and Lazarus: A God who weeps.
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Romans 8: 6-11
John 11: 1-45.
Hymns I would have chosen. If you have a hymn book you may wish to look them up and read, sing or pray them. They may also be on-line:
637: Lord of the living
607: Make me a channel of your peace
638: O Christ, the healer
687: God gives us a future.
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” (John 11: 11-14).
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
The first from Woody Allen: “I’m not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
And, from preacher and writer Fred Craddock:
‘Lazarus left the tomb, but the price was that Jesus had to enter it.’
I know I said I would speak about Psalm 23, but this reading is too good to let go, especially with what is going on in our world-and on our own doorsteps, right now.
Death…and a foretaste of Jesus’ resurrection.
I know we are hearing so much about death at the moment-BUT we must not let fear overcome us, overwhelm us, paralyse us.
This story, set for the week before Passion/Palm Sunday, gives us HOPE, and, hopefully, steadies our fluttering hearts and strengthens us for these difficult times.
Let’s face it-we are following a really, hard and long Lenten journey this year!
We can feel the heaviness of the cross on our backs, and within our hearts.
We are not to be Pollyannas, thinking everything will be all right if we think positive-our news reports inform us of the severity of the virus-BUT we are to hold on to our faith, knowing we are NEVER alone.
God did not promise us trouble free times-BUT Jesus did say he would be WITH US during those times.
This powerful reading, infused with tears, is a link to the impending death of Jesus.
The raising of Lazarus is a foretaste of what will be done for the whole world in the arrival of Jesus.
Although the resuscitation of Lazarus is not Easter, it is not the resurrection of Jesus-it is as if the presence of Jesus exudes life, vitality.
His very presence, his voice, evokes life.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
One of the most precious things in the world to have is a home-where our loved one are, where we can go and find rest and understanding, peace and love.
Some of us may be a bit sick of being ‘at home’ at present-but you know what I mean.
This need of and for home was doubly true for Jesus, for he had no home of his own:
In Luke 9: 58 he says: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Yet…in the home at Bethany, Jesus found such a place.
There were three people who loved him dearly-Lazarus, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha.
There Jesus could rest from the tensions of life.
The gift of rest-for weary feet, for tired souls.
Lazarus became ill, so the sisters send a message to Jesus.
We know the two sisters-Mary, the more contemplative one, Martha the more practical one.
“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
Now, watch carefully.
This story of Lazarus’s death and resuscitation is set within a number of exchanges between Jesus and the two sisters.
We identify with these women don’t we, we know what it feels like to be worried about a loved one.
Let’s look at the message they sent to Jesus-is something missing?
‘So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
This verse speaks volumes of the love between this family, and Jesus.
Their message does not ASK Jesus to come to Bethany.
They knew that the simple statement that they were in need would bring him.
There is a great depth of friendship and trust here.
But watch Jesus.
In a sense he brushes off the message.
He says “This illness does not lead to death.”
-a curious statement since Jesus hasn’t even seen Lazarus, doesn’t know what his illness is.
A bit like Dr Google these days!
Then he says that Lazarus’s’ illness is for ‘God’s glory.’
-the cure would enable people to see the glory of God in action…and that God’s glory will also be seen in the cross.
Remember one of my opening quotes: ‘Lazarus left the tomb, but the price was that Jesus had to enter it.’
‘after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’
Don’t you find this a little strange?
After receiving the sister’s news, Jesus hangs around for two more days-before heading off to Bethany.
Wouldn’t you think he would drop everything, to go and visit a loved one who is ill?
It’s not as though he is busy doing something more important, John just says that Jesus ‘stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’
So why didn’t Jesus rush to Bethany? To Lazarus’s bedside?
The writer of John always shows us Jesus taking action entirely on his own initiative-not being persuaded by others.
Remember the miracle at Cana-the water changed in to wine? Jesus tells Mary not to bother about it-in a sense, he is telling her he will deal with the situation when he is good and ready.
The same today.
Jesus does things in his chosen time.
This is a warning to us.
So often we would like Jesus to do things our way, in our time frame… “Lord do this please-and I want it now.”
No. We must leave him to do them in his own way.
When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, it’s all over.
It’s all over.
Lazarus has been wrapped in his shroud, in the tomb for four days.
Martha, true to character, loved action. When it was announced that Jesus was coming-Martha went to meet him, while Mary stayed at home, mourning.
When Martha met Jesus, her heart spoke through her lips.
-her heart spoke through her lips.
Put yourself in her place.
A close friend of Jesus-and Jesus hadn’t rushed to help Lazarus. Now, grieving, your brother now dead-would YOU accept Jesus’ delay gracefully?
Martha’s speech is one of the most human speeches in the Bible. She speaks half with a reproach that she could not hold back-and half with a faith that NOTHING could shake!
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Perhaps in her mind she was really thinking: “When you got our message, why didn’t you come at once? Now it is too late.”
No sooner are the words out of her mouth-come words of FAITH.
“But even now,” says Martha, perhaps with a kind of desperate hope,
“But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha says she knows this, that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.
Perhaps Martha is saying, underneath all this-that she knows all that, that she doesn’t want to hear any pious talk that “he’s gone to a better place” or that “this is God’s will.”
She wants her brother back.
She is unmarried, in a patriarchal world-she and her sister Mary will be alone, vulnerable.
Without Lazarus-there is no security, no hope.
How will they get by, plus immense grief. These are her heavy burdens.
But Jesus isn’t talking about theology, he isn’t explaining the resurrection. He doesn’t say to her “believe that someday Lazarus will be resurrected.”
“you’ll see him again in heaven.”
Instead, Jesus is saying
“I am the resurrection. I am life.”
Do you believe it? Do you believe it?
Even practical, little red hen Martha believed it.
She makes the most extravagant statement of faith in the Gospel up to this point:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
She rushes back to tell Mary that Jesus has arrived, and Mary’s greeting was exactly the same as Martha’s!
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Now comes one of the most beautiful, moving and precious pieces of Scripture. When they showed him the tomb where Lazarus, his friend was, ‘Jesus began to weep.’
So deeply did Jesus enter into the wounded hearts of humans, that he was filled with pain and sorrow.
Twice Jesus tears are recorded: first, weeping over Jerusalem, and now, at a friend’s grave.
But there’s more.
More than Jesus’ feelings for his friend, Lazarus.
To any Greek, or gentile reading this-and this gospel was written in Greek for gentiles-this would be earth shattering.
For the Greeks, the main characteristic of God was apatheia-different from our apathy-it means a total inability to feel any emotion-a passionless, isolated God.
What a different picture Jesus paints. He shows us a God whose very heart weeps for God’s people, who cares for each one of us.
-who cares for each one of us.
Then, the removal of the stone (despite Martha’s protest that Lazarus has been dead for 4 days).
The corpse is the central part of this drama. Jesus didn’t dash to their side whilst Lazarus was alive.
Jesus, with power and confidence cries out ‘with a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!” …then “unbind him, and let him go.”
Remember the Australian artist Pro Hart? I grew up looking at his paintings, thinking the sky was too blue, the earth too orange. When I finally visited Broken Hill-I realized the colours were spot on!
Pro Hart also painted religious pictures. Some of them decorate a number of churches in the area. One of the most moving is of Lazarus coming out of the tomb. The strips of cloth falling away from him.
Maybe…just maybe…the tomb also summons Jesus’s tears because he will have to enter one soon.
It is remarkable that a human need-elicits divine tears.
The raising of Lazarus is the most daring and dramatic of Jesus’ healings.
Do any of these characters resonate with you?
What binds us?
What keeps us from life?
What is dry and brittle in my life?
Where do I need to go to seek hope during these troubled times?
What keeps me bound up, unable to move?
Fear? Insecurity? Pain?
In two weeks’ time, Jesus shall enter the tomb-to emerge as Lord of Life.
Let his loud voice, shouting “Come out!” bring you new life, living in the light of the resurrection.
Remember, Jesus wept.
He is weeping today.
Ken Gire wrote: ‘…who’s to say which is more incredible- a man who raises the dead…or a God who weeps?’
Hold fast to our God, a God who weeps, who cares tenderly for each one of us-in good times, and during crises,