The 5th Sunday in Lent (A)
In the Name of the One who is the resurrection and the life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
Three friends were having a discussion about death. Eventually, the topic turned to what they would like people to be saying at their funerals. The first one said; “I would like people to say that he was a good man and a fun person to be around with.” The second one said; “I would like them to say that he was a good husband and father, and someone who could always be relied upon to keep his word.” And the third one said; “I would like them to say, ‘LOOK! HE’S MOVING!”!!
That really gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?! In the end, it doesn’t matter how many testimonials a dead person might receive at a funeral – because no matter what he or she is still DEAD! The really important thing at a funeral service is not the deceased person’s past accomplishments, but rather the hope of a resurrection!
In today’s gospel we learn about the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a village just outside of Jerusalem. We do not know much about Lazarus except that he was a close friend of Jesus, that he was the brother of Mary and Martha – and that he apparently was very highly respected within his community. I saw that last statement because many people from the surrounding area had come to mourn him. And I can imagine all of them telling his sisters about what a good man Lazarus had been, and about how they would miss him, and about how sorry they were.
But all of those standard condolences, even though they were probably given very sincerely, did not assuage Mary and Martha’s grief. All that they knew and cared about was the fact that their brother was dead. I am sure that they appreciated the visits from their friends and relatives and all of the expressions of sympathy and flowers and so forth that they had received. But still, Lazarus was DEAD! He was buried and his tomb was sealed by a stone.
By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. “Lord,” Martha said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her sister Mary said the very same thing a little later when she went out to meet him. They had believed that Jesus – if he had come in time – could have helped their brother recover from his illness.
But of course, Jesus had not arrived in time. Their hope was completely gone, and the only thing they could feel was grief and despair. Even Jesus’ assurance to Martha that her brother would rise again seemed to be nothing more than cold comfort – kind of like the platitudes we give about the deceased having “gone to a better place.”
But Jesus did not just give platitudes or remind Martha of the doctrine of a resurrection at the last day. He directed her attention to himself. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
What Jesus was doing was inviting Martha to take comfort in his love for her right now. Not in a doctrine of a future resurrection, but in his love for her right now. “Believe that I love you and that I am with you even in the midst of your despair,” he was telling her. “Believe that I will bring you through this grief, and you will experience new hope and new life.”
“Yes, Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” “Yes, Lord – I don’t understand why my brother died – I don’t know if I can understand or care or even really believe in a resurrection at the last day. I hurt all over inside and feel nothing but darkness – but I know that you love me! Somehow, through you I believe that God loves me and will help me through this. I believe in you!”
Martha and her sister Mary did not understand why their brother Lazarus had died. They hurt with a grief so intense that it cannot be adequately described. But they believed in Jesus. They believed in him and experienced his love for them even then – especially then. And THAT is when they experienced Jesus’ POWER in a most incredible way!
Jesus went to the tomb and commanded that the stone be taken away, even if there might be a stench from Lazarus’ decaying body. And after giving a prayer of thanksgiving to God, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And as we heard, the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Lazarus was the one who was literally bound in grave cloths, but his sisters Mary and Martha and their friends were also bound as well. He was bound in the grave cloths of death – they were bound in the grave cloths of pain and despair. But when they experienced Jesus’ love, they also experienced his power. He gave them new hope and life where they had none before. Jesus removed their spiritual and emotional grave cloths just as Lazarus had his literal grave cloths removed!
That is what Jesus does for us today! Even during the darkest hours of our lives – when we are overwhelmed with pain and grief and fear and despair – Jesus comes to us and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Yes, even during the worst of times when all hope seems to be dead and gone, through Jesus we can live again! He removes our grave clothes that bind us and gives us new hope and new life! May it be so for each of us this day and always.
Or as the third friend at the beginning of my sermon put it; “LOOK! HE’S MOVING!!” In Jesus Christ we are always moving! Thanks be to God! Amen!!
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270