T Lent 5 – April 10th, 2011 T
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-53
Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.
We’ve had a lot of funerals around Redeemer lately. And if you listen to the prayer requests it seems like illness, misery and death win. Every news reel, every headline, every petition seems to point us to death’s trophy case. A funeral and a cemetery is a hard place to confess because there it seems that death has won after all. Every headstone, another medal where Death seems to shout out, “You, o son of Adam, have lost.”
It’s no wonder our culture thrives – even cashes in - on covering up death. He’s no longer an undertaker; he’s a dignity memorial provider. It’s not a hurse; it’s a carriage. It’s not a coffin; it’s a casket. It’s not a funeral; it’s a celebration of life – our old Adam loves to play this game of hide and seek with death - out of sight, out of mind – I’m not listening. You can put a pretty pink bow on a skull, but it’s still a skull. Death is still death no matter how many funny names you call it.
Lazarus was not expired, passed on, kicking the bucket, taking a dirt nap, or pushing up daisies. He was dead. Jesus calls it like it is. Death is not the opposite of life but the absence of it – like darkness is the absence of light. Death is the last nail in old Adam’s coffin of control and autonomy. There’s no such thing as death by natural causes – death is about as unnatural a thing as there is. God has made us for life – that’s what Genesis is all about. Christ is entirely consumed with death and life – there’s no better expert. Illness and misery and death do not get the last word, Jesus does – and that’s what all of Scripture is about.
Which is why Jesus behavior seems strange – Lazarus was sick. Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. So, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, he waited two more days to go see them. And His comments to the disciples seem even stranger: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
Thomas unwittingly says the right thing. “We must go and die with him – but the “him” is not Lazarus, it’s Jesus. Isn’t that what the season of Lent is? Dropping dead in Jesus. John 11 is a picture of the Last Day, falling asleep in Jesus only to have Him wake you up as soon as you’ve begun to rest. But it’s not just Lent, that’s the whole Christian life – daily dying and rising. Daily drowning the old Adam – that dusty pile of bones sucked dry by sin. Daily rising - Living by the breath of life from the same One who breathed life into Adam. Dying to live.
That’s what the sisters just couldn’t quite get their heads around yet – not until Easter Sunday. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re right there with Mary, Martha, the crowds and the disciples, all saying the same thing: “Lord, if You had only been here my brother would not have died.”
And that’s part of the hang up. Martha confesses the truth…but not the whole truth. For the whole truth of the Christian faith is found not in Something – but in Someone! And this Someone is not just a future hope, not just a distant promise – but a here-and-now, in the present salvation. Jesus is embodied truth , flesh and blood truth. Martha, Martha – you are anxious about many things…this one thing is necessary: I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Present tense. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die forever. I am the voice of joy that takes away sorrow and grief…I am the comfort of those who are in grief.” The voice of life that awakens the dead – for you, for Lazarus and all whom Jesus loves dearly.”
That’s why He had to go to the tomb. Yes, Jesus loved Lazarus – but just as important, He loves the rest of them – Mary, Martha, the disciples –all of us – who don’t always get it. As Jesus orders the stone to be taken away, Martha worries about the smell. Lazarus was four days’ dead. Dead as dead can be. “Lord, he stinketh,” said Martha – a passage that’s always better in the King James. Lazarus was stinking dead. He had no choice in the matter. Death is laid on him, as is life. Life in death comes only through Jesus, His Word spoken into your lifeless flesh. “O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord: “I will cause the breath of life to enter you and you shall live. Lazarus, Come out! Unbind him. Release him. Free him from death.
Lazarus was really the only one in that cemetery who completely believed in Christ. He alone truly listened to the word of Christ. Mary, Martha and the crowds were still full of grief and doubt. But the dead man believed. No grave could hold his body down. Our Lord awoke him (Lazarus) with as much ease from his grave as you might awake a sleeper from his bed. Death does not win. And here is Christ’s trophy.
Who is this Man who speaks to the dead and they listen? Who is this Man who raises the dead from their grave as easily as one rouses a loved one from a nap – with one little word? Who is this Man who once and for all answers the question asked of Ezekiel – can these bones live?
Jesus, the dead whisperer. The death conqueror. The life giver. “I am not the God of the dead but of the living. My death is your glory. My resurrection is your life. I will rip you from the arms of your grave as swiftly as I pulled Lazarus out of his tomb. I AM your Resurrection and your Life. No grave can hold my body down. And neither will it hold you. For you rest secure in my pierced hands.
…Behold I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people…and you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you …and I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land…I am the Lord, I have spoken and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
Death does not triumph. Death cannot end your gladness; You are Baptized into Him. Joined to Him in His tomb. You no longer live in yourself. You live in Christ. And Christ lives in you. Resurrection is present tense. I am Baptized into Christ.
Rejoice in Christ as He delights in you, His precious saints. Pray for those in mourning. Grieve the loss of loved ones. But not without hope. Rejoice in the greater joy that you are closest to Lazarus and all the saints - who are asleep in Christ - when you draw near to Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Heaven and earth are gathered around the Lamb and His life giving trophy of flesh and blood forgiveness given and shed for you. For you are united with them in Christ awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.