John 11: 1-45; 04022017; 5 Lent
Where were you when Christ first called your name? Or perhaps the better question is, where you when you first heard Christ call your your name? Those are very different questions, aren’t they?
The words of our lessons this week speak powerfully to the loving grace of Jesus Christ. In our first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel finds himself in a valley, an ancient battleground. There are old, dry bones lying everywhere, the remains of some ancient and terrible battle. The Lord speaks to Ezekiel, and calls on him to resurrect the warriors that so fiercely fought there. The barrier between life and death disappears for the moment. God speaks, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy mortal, and say to the breath: Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.” That must have been quite a moment for Ezekiel; the Lord was speaking about the Spirit coming upon the bones lying there, so that the ancient warriors would be resurrected!
In our lesson from Romans, Paul addresses that veil of death that lies within us. Paul writes, “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
One could say that Paul was telling his followers that they needed to invite the Spirit in, rather than focusing on their flesh. “Be in the Spirit”, he told them, “and let God come dwell in you.” Paul wrote these words rather matter of factually, and indeed, later in his life, he would say to the Roman authorities, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” Now there’s a question for us to ponder, as we prepare to for the events of Holy Week.
Of course, it’s no accident that we’re hearing these words today. The nature of the barrier between life and death will be front and center, as we journey on through Holy Week. Is there a barrier there that we must surmount? Will we all rise from the dead? Is there a heaven, and what might it look like? Is there great hope to be found in those words from John, that Martin Luther called the Gospel in one sentence? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
Ironically, the raising of Lazarus in our story from this morning’s Gospel will result in Jesus’ death. It will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. That power that Jesus draws on will scare the Pharisees, and their privileged hierarchy. And, they’ll want to kill Lazarus too, and put an end to both of them. How strange Lazarus must have felt, to have been resurrected, and then be running for his life.
Now Jesus had raised others from the dead, but those were in comparatively remote places. This was in Bethany, just a couple of miles from Jerusalem. The Pharisees were close by and had surely heard of Jesus’ arrival. As John tells us, Lazarus and his family had many friends, many of whom had come to pay their respects to Lazarus and his family.
Now Jesus hadn’t been in any hurry to get to Bethany. He had told his disciples that Lazarus, in fact, wasn’t dead, but only sleeping. In fact it was four days after Lazarus died, that Jesus finally got there. Jewish belief at the time was that one’s soul hovered around the body for three days before it fled. And so by waiting four days, Lazarus’s death would be a certainty.
It’s interesting to note Jesus’s reactions to the death of his friend, Lazarus. On the one hand, he knew what he would do, and that Lazarus would live again. On the other hand, Jesus was moved to tears, when he saw the weeping of Mary and Martha and their friends. It speaks to us that Jesus was indeed a human, albeit with a twist. And despite the stench coming from the tomb, Jesus made his way towards the opening of the cave.
Let’s think for just a moment about this cave. I suppose that all of us have had this thing we might call a cave. We sometimes hide in it, when we think that we’re unworthy. It might not be a cave of stone, but I think you catch my meaning. It’s a place we go to hide from God and all his pesky rules and regulations. Sometimes, in fact, our caves begin to look a lot like prisons. And though we can’t see the bars and locks, they are secure as we can make them. It’s to those caves of ours, that Jesus comes to save us. For there is no cave or prison or tomb ever built, that is secure against his presence.
It should come as no surprise to us that the Pharisees had to kill him. How could they compete against a man, able to raise the dead? And poor Lazarus was also in their sights, because he stood alive as evidence.
And so, the plot begins to thicken, as the events of Holy Week draw near. My prayer this week is that you might ponder what kind of cave it is that you sometimes retreat to. For Jesus is near to each of you, whatever you might be thinking. And just like Lazarus, Jesus comes to wake the dead, and to remind they’re only sleeping.