a sermon for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year A
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is the most heartbreaking sentence in the entire Bible because it’s true. So what is the promise of the Resurrection? How can we live into that promise now?
Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of “spring cleaning” going on around St. Simon & St. Jude. We’ve put up a new sign out by the road and planted some rose bushes. The kitchen has been scrubbed and organized. There’s a labyrinth going in out back and a new rehearsal room for the choir. We’ve been replacing the siding on the old garage behind the playground. All these projects involve the work of a lot of people and I want you all to know how much I appreciate the time and effort you are putting into our church home.
Yesterday morning, I was torn. I knew that I needed to work on my sermon for today but I was stuck – I didn’t exactly know how to approach today’s Gospel. And the weather was so beautiful, I really wanted to be outside helping with the garage. So I decided to come out and putter around for a few hours with the guys. We talked about basketball, talked about our families, and talked about plans for vacation. And I told them that I was stuck trying to write my sermon. I asked, “Anybody got any ideas about the story of Lazarus?”
Blount said, “Lazarus? Isn’t he the guy Jesus raised from the dead? Sounds pretty simple. Just talk about resurrection!”
Resurrection – probably the most important claim of Christianity. I guess I’ll take a crack at it.
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Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
This has to be the most heart breaking sentence in the entire Bible because it’s true. If Jesus had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died in the first place Jesus would have healed him. We know this because we have seen Jesus restore sight to a blind man, and bring an outcast Samaritan woman back into community with her village, and instruct an elder of the synagogue, Nicodemus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We know this because we know that with God, nothing is impossible. We know this. And Martha and Mary knew this and they knew that Jesus loved them. That’s what makes this even more painful. If Jesus loved them and he had the power to prevent it, how could he let Lazarus die?
All of us who have lost a loved one before their time have asked this very same question. When my father died at the age of 64 and my brother died a few years later at the age of 30, I asked the same question Martha asked. How, O Lord, if you were with them, if you loved them, could you let them die?
Of course, Jesus assures Martha that her brother will rise again, but she doesn’t sound comforted. Intellectually, she knows what he’s referring to – God’s promise to us all that we’ll be raised in the resurrection on the Last Day. But that’s not the same as having her brother alive right now. And Jesus understands that. “I AM the resurrection and the life,” he says. Not just in the distant future, but here in the present tense. Resurrection is standing right in front of you, right here and right now.
Later, when Jesus goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus out, he lets the other shoe drop. After ordering Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Jesus then turns and speaks to the crowd as well: “unbind him and let him go.” In other words, the community, all of us here, is expected to participate in God’s action, to bring it to its desired end and outcome, to join in completing God’s redemptive act.
These two facts – that Jesus was speaking in the present tense, and that he expected the community to participate in raising Lazarus – show us that resurrection is not just about what happens to us after we die. It’s not just about God’s promise of forgiveness and life after death, although that is a part of it. Resurrection is also about God’s promise of abundant life for us here and now in the present. The promise that even when we lose a loved one, their lives are not over, for they will continue to live in God. And, if their lives continue, so our lives will continue, too – continue growing and opening to new experiences, new opportunities, new life in a present tense relationship with Jesus Christ. We experience a resurrection every time we help lift another out of their own dead relationships.
Many years ago, I was teaching the high school youth, preparing them for Confirmation. I started out by asking them what they believed. At first, they just sat there, not saying anything. So I prodded them a little, trying to get them to open up. Still nothing. Finally, I turned the question around. “Okay, what don’t you believe?” Wham! That got them going! They said they didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, they didn’t believe in the Virgin Birth, they didn’t believe in the Resurrection. Finally, we had a conversation!
I think that a lot of folks find the idea of resurrection very hard to believe. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. Because resurrection isn’t some kind of deep theological concept. It’s not something you have to figure out, like geometry, or something you have to believe. Resurrection is something you participate in and experience.
For anyone who has lost someone they loved so much that they just wanted to climb into the grave with that person, resurrection is the new life that comes slowly, gradually as we grieve. At first, we can hardly imagine continuing our lives without them. But with the help of those around us – our families, our friends, our church – we begin to experience life anew. And little by little, we begin to realize that we see the world differently than we did before. We have been transformed by having loved and been loved by that person.
You see, the fact of the matter is that resurrection is both promise and relationship – the promise of forgiveness of our sins and a present relationship with God and with those around us. For Lazarus, resurrection simply meant having dinner once again with his sisters and his friend, Jesus. For Mary and Martha, resurrection was in their relationship with Christ and the promise of abundant life beyond forever.
For me, resurrection has been here in this place, this church, where over the years I have seen good friends, close friends, come and go. I have seen my children and their friends grow up and start families of their own, and in a few occasions baptized their children, and buried their parents. For each of you, resurrection will look very different. But, I have seen and continue to see new life and vitality in all of you, through your relationship with God and with one another.
So maybe Blount was right. Resurrection doesn’t need to be all that hard to explain – it is happening all the time right around us. Just as surely as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and invited the people to unbind him, we have been invited to participate in God’s redemptive work. Yes, the raising of Lazarus from death to new life was entirely God’s work through Jesus Christ, and yet Christ invites us all to participate; that is, to do something, something essential and meaningful and important in the life of another human being.
Resurrection is a group of guys putting up new siding on an old garage on a spring morning. Resurrection is God’s promise to us that we will live forever. Resurrection is the work that we do in the world for and with each other. Resurrection is life lived full and rich and abundantly right here and right now.
Thanks be to God.