Sermons That Work

Resurrection and Life, Lent 5 (A) – 1999

March 21, 1999

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “I am the resurrection and the life.”
And soon, there is a stone rolled away, an empty tomb, and grave clothes lying abandoned.
Lazarus’ miracle is NOT resurrection, because he will die, physically, again. That’s true. But it is not ALL the truth. The other half of the truth lies in Jesus’ words, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” In other words, the most important acceptance of New Life for Lazarus had happened before he ever got sick.
The raising of Lazarus, however important for Mary and Martha, however important for Jesus’ own immediate future, is, for Lazarus himself, much less important than his initial and ongoing faith in Jesus, the Christ. That was Lazarus’ entrance into New Life, life that would not die.
That New Life was the life Lazarus lived, both before and after the events we hear today. He shared in the quality of life that Jesus, who loved him, lives and gives to all who will receive it.
And that life doesn’t die, whatever happens to the body.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It is an extraordinary statement. It combines a remarkable degree of faith with a hint of blame. If Jesus is really so powerful, then why NOT hold him responsible for the times and ways when he doesn’t use that power?
Of course, we do.
We tend to do it in unhealthy ways-by blaming God when bad things happen, or by calling those bad things God’s judgment on sinners, or even more unhealthy, perhaps, by saying, in resignation, “It was God’s will.” Bad things AREN’T God’s will. At least not in any simple sense. If Jesus is God the Son, as we proclaim, we need to take seriously his tears at Lazarus’ grave. Even though he had told his disciples earlier, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified by means of it.” In
other words, “This is all according to the master plan. This will be for good.” Nevertheless, at the graveside, Jesus-God as well as Man, wept.
The commentators speculate about those tears. Since Jesus knew what he was going to do, they were not simple tears mourning the loss of a friend. But whether they were tears of sympathy for his dear friends Mary and Martha, or tears of rage at the evil of death, or even tears brought on by the stress of knowing that what he was about to do would hasten his own agony, Jesus wept. God’s will was being done, and yet God the Son of God wept.
God’s will cannot be so simple as we often imagine.
God’s will includes a will-ingness to suffer, Godself, and, temporarily, for a greater good we cannot see, for human beings to suffer, even though that increases God’s own suffering.
Soon, Jesus will weep again, weep tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. And soon, there will be another tomb, another empty body wrapped In linens, more women weeping their loss.
The Gospel writer, like the compilers of our Lectionary, put Lazarus’ death and life immediately before the events of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem.
There is more than one reason.
One are the evocative, common symbols: the grave and its stone covering, the wrappings, the weeping women. The raising of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of what is to come.
But it is also a cause.
Jesus’ act on his friend’s behalf is the immediate reason for the religious authorities’ decision that his career must end, that either he must die or their entire world would be destroyed.
And Jesus is no fool. He knows what he is doing, and what the results will be for himself. He knows he is putting HIS life on the line.
So now, for Lazarus, as later for all his followers in every time and place, Jesus is deliberately offering his life for his friend.
Our New Life, like Lazarus’, comes from Jesus’ life. But it comes by way of his death.
And by way of our own.
We can die now or die later.
We can, through Baptism and the Holy Spirit, die to self, in Jesus’ death to HIMself, and live in his life, which does not die; or we can die later, when a self that is ONLY itself has no more life within it, and our soul, as empty as our vacated body, cannot maintain itself by itself.
Lazarus had died before he died. Therefore, even when he died, he lived.
As can we.
God is very tough-minded, willing to do and to allow whatever is necessary for eventual, infinite joy.
And God is very tender-minded, weeping with us and suffering with us and
for us on the way to that joy.
“Lord, if you had been there-“
But Jesus WAS there, in Lazarus’ life AND in his death, in his raising and in his second physical death. Lazarus both died and lived in the New Life that is Jesus. In that New Life there is no death, only change from glory to glory.
That New Life is ours if we will accept it. It is what Jesus lived and died and rose to give us.
Thanks be to God!

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Christopher Sikkema


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