“Lazarus, come out!”
You can hear the sternness of Christ’s voice as he commands his servant with a loud voice, powerful enough to bridge the gap between life and death. Lazarus was not just some person living in the area whom Jesus had never met. Jesus knew Lazarus personally, and he loved him deeply. Lazarus was a close personal friend of Christ’s. When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters, Martha and Mary, immediately sent a messenger to Jesus to inform him of the impending death with the expectation that Jesus would save their family from this pain immediately. After all, this is the same Jesus who has healed complete strangers from every multitude of pain, deformity, and disease. Surely he would move quickly to save somebody that he actually knows and loves. But Jesus does not react in the manner in which anybody close to him would expect. Instead of dropping everything and making haste to get to his friend’s side, Jesus continues what he was doing and waits. Both Mary and Martha believed that Lazarus was on his deathbed, and Jesus knew that Lazarus was dying, but he waited.
Four days after Lazarus died, Jesus finally showed up in Bethany. You can only imagine the scene on that day. Martha and Mary are deep in their grief and they are sobbing at the loss of their beloved brother. When Jesus enters the house, one would expect that his reception was not a pleasant one. The sisters were upset, and they lashed out at Jesus by saying that if he had actually cared enough and come right away, then their loved one would still be here. They were angry; they were grieving; and they were distraught.
Instead of caving into their distressed words, Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb. Upon arriving, Jesus orders that the tomb be opened, and at this, he was rebuked by Martha. Lazarus had been dead for four days. Unlike today’s mortuary practices, there was no embalming of the body, nor was there any air conditioning in order to preserve the body for any length of time. In those days, when somebody died, they were placed within the tomb as soon as possible, and the door was sealed. The stench of the tomb after four days would have been too great. But Jesus again ordered the tomb opened, and the family finally obeyed him and had the stone rolled away. The stench that came out of the tomb was horrendous and did cause a number of people distress.
“Lazarus, come out!”
Ignoring the comments from the gathered people, the stench from the open tomb, and the sly comments, Jesus said a short prayer to our Father, and then commanded Lazarus with a loud voice; projecting not just his confidence in the miracle that was being performed, but with great authority. In just three words, Jesus was able to dispel the notions of death, proved the power of God, and exposed himself, yet again, as the only Son of God.
The scriptures do not tell us what Lazarus was doing during those four days, nor is there an interview with Lazarus to find out. Although it would satisfy our human curiosity to find out, the most important thing is that, even after death had overtaken him, Lazarus still obeyed God’s command. Jesus proved that he had authority both in this life, and in the next. That is an important thing for us today.
Martha and Mary were distraught over the death of their beloved, and yet they put their human feelings and emotions away and obeyed the commands of Christ. Lazarus, although he was dead, also obeyed the commands of Christ. What would happen in our lives if we put aside our human emotions and simply obeyed the commands of Christ?
Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say to Peter “get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind on human things and not divine things.” Peter knew the prophecies of the Messiah, and had, what he felt, was a good understanding of what was going to happen when the Messiah arrived. When Jesus spoke of what He was going to face in Jerusalem, these facts did not mesh well with the human perceptions, and Peter immediately rebuked his Lord. Jesus knew God’s plan in full detail and he knew what had to happen in order to fulfill this plan.
And like Peter, Martha and Mary had their beliefs about the Son of God, and when Jesus did not respond in the way they expected, they too had fallen. You see, in Hebrew theology the fourth day of death was important. According to Hebrew beliefs of death, the spirit hovered near the body after someone died for three days. On the fourth day, when the spirit saw the face of the deceased turn color, the spirit would leave, never to return. At that point this existence ended and life was no more. In fact, the priests of the temple in Jerusalem believed death in this world was the end. They did not believe in an afterlife at all. When Jesus finally had arrived, Martha and Mary believed that their brother was gone, never to return. But they also believed in Jesus enough to obey his commands.
And that is what separates the saints from the sinners. Today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we are honoring all those who have come before, all those with us now, and all of those yet to come who have obeyed the commands of God at all costs. Today we are celebrating not only the canonically recognized saints, but also those who have not been canonically recognized. As Christians, we hold these saints in high regard, and we have named our churches in honor of their Godly work. For example, many of us can look to Saint Francis of Assisi as an example of how God’s love extends beyond human beings to all creatures of creation.
As humans, we oftentimes have neglected to realize the true humanness of these saints and instead revere them as living nothing but holy lives. The truth is these men and women were just as human as you and I. All of them were, are, will be ordinary people. They just had extraordinary lives – extraordinary lives because they set their minds on divine things and obeyed the command of God at every impasse.
We all believe in the resurrection of the body, and we all know that one day, like Lazarus, we too will hear Jesus commanding us to “come out.” Like the saints, we too can live an extraordinary life if we only obey every command that Christ gives us. When our worship ends today, if you listen intently enough, you may just be able to hear our Lord standing outside these doors calling each of us out into the world – out into His world – to spread his message, to fulfill God’s plan.