Die to Live

Lent 5A
John 11

We have been blessed to go through some vignettes from John this Lent.  In John, there are seven miracles or ‘signs’ that he records as pointers to the identity of Christ.  In some of them are assigned ‘I Am’ statements.  He miraculously feeds the 5000, and he says ‘I am the bread of life.’  He heals the blind man, and he says ‘I am the light of the world.’

In the seventh and final ‘sign,’ Jesus raises his friends Lazarus from the dead.  Here is the ultimate of Jesus’ signs.  Before it, he says, “I am the resurrection and I am the Life,” leaving little doubt to Jesus’ authority and his identity.  Here, in the carpenter of Nazareth is also the God of the universe.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This gospel is read towards the end of Lent because it was the event that caused the Pharisees to begin their plot to arrest and kill Jesus.  Soon Jesus will ride into Jerusalem with hosannas ringing in the air.  However, the cross is right around the corner.

Jesus weeps.  Critics of John’s gospel say that John characterizes Jesus as a divine being that has come down from heaven whose feet never touch the ground.  In fact, one of my seminary professors said that in John, Jesus is more like Spock than a real man.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Yes, it is obvious from John’s gospel that Jesus is God, equal with the Father, but in John Jesus turns water into wine.  He eats and drinks.  He puts mud in a blind man’s eyes.  He washes his disciples’ dirty feet.  And here, he weeps.  He is both God and man.

And isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus wept?  Why did he weep?  Because Lazurus is a friend.  Because he is hurt for his family.  Isn’t it comforting to know that when we lose a loved one God is also hurt?  Death was never meant to be part of the human condition.  Even Jesus weeps at the reality and finality of death.

Fred Craddock says, ‘Is there any place where this text does not fit?  Spray paint it on the gray walls of the inner city: Jesus wept.  Scrawl it with a crayon on a hallway of an orphanage: Jesus wept.  Embroider it on every pillow in the nursing home: Jesus wept.  Nail it on posts along a refugee road out of an African nation: Jesus wept.  Flash it in blinking neon at the bus station where the homeless are draped over pitiless benches: Jesus wept…’  He weeps at the suffering and death of our world.  The text says that he was disturbed, even angry at Lazarus’ death.

But here is the crux of our reflection.  Jesus can do something about it.  Jesus said, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life, the one who believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live.’  Jesus did call Lazarus from his grave to come out of death back into life.

This raising of Lazarus is one of those cosmic events.  It is the ultimate ‘sign’ of Jesus’ deity and Godhood.  It is cosmic because it anticipates Jesus own resurrection as well as shows us just who is in charge here.

Jesus is in charge of calling forth from the grave.

Jesus can stare death in the face and turn it into something else.  By pulling Lazarus out of the grave, he changes the meaning of death all together.  For Jesus, there is no time and death is irrelevant.  ‘I am the resurrection and I am the life.’  But this story is more than just a cosmic story.  It is also a personal story.  What does Jesus say to this dead man wrapped in grave clothes?  ‘Lazarus, come forth.’  He calls him by name.  Lazarus is more than a pawn in a divine chess game.  He is Jesus’ friend.

There is nothing like hearing someone call us by name.  Experts say it is what we want to hear the most from others.  I remember when Sarah and I first met, I introduced myself and she shook my hand and said, ‘Hello, Stace.’  That was no big deal for her I’m sure but I loved the way my name sounded coming from her.

In life and in death, those in Christ hear the most wonderful sound, the voice of Jesus crying out there name.  When Jesus rises from the grave, Mary Magdeline recognizes him because he says her name.

When Jesus raises Lazarus, it show us his love extends beyond the grave.  Jesus’ love is so powerful that not even death can quench it.  The Song of Solomon says that human love is as strong as death.  Christ shows that his love is even stronger than death itself.

I love the Eastern Icon of the resurrection.  It shows Jesus in hell reaching out his hands and pulling Adam and Eve out in an act of rescue.  Jesus love is the great reversal of fortunes.  It is beyond all that we can ask or imagine.

Jesus love is a great reversal of everything we know of as disordered and evil.  He invades the temporal world to bring a Kingdom in which love reigns. This is the kind of love that encompasses all that is righteous and all that is holy.  It is love that penetrates the darkness and invades the powers of hell.

This story of Lazarus is cosmic, but it is so much more.  It is a clear picture of Jesus’ love for us, a love that is stronger than death.  ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says the Lord, ‘all who believe in me shall live, even though they die.’

But there is more here.  Even though we’ve been talking about death, and Jesus’ conquering of it, notice what Jesus actually says.  ‘I am the resurrection and the life…’  He does not say, ‘I will be the resurrection and the life.’  ‘I am’, present tense.

Many critics of Christianity say that it is too much oriented to the future, to clouds and angel wings.  Jesus has a lot to do with our souls after death but not much to our physical realities and our everyday existence.  But the life Jesus offers is for a present kingdom reality.  Jesus says in John 17, ‘This is eternal life, that [my followers] know the Father, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.’  Salvation in Christ is a present, living relationship with the living God, not just a guarantee of heaven when we die.  Christ conquers final death but also ‘living death.’  We live in a world of the living dead.  We live in a culture obsessed with me myself and I.  Jesus says, ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’

I often do my work at Starbuck’s down the road and often I get to eavesdrop on conversations.  There were three young hotshot lawyers there the other day (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I was struck at how three young, sharp, intelligent men could be such examples of what Dr. Hollis calls ‘rectal cranial inversion.’

They were talking about women walking by, they were talking about all the hot cases in the headlines and not a sentence went by without the ‘F’ word.

You can have it all and still be walking around as the living dead.  We can ask the question of Ezekiel about most of our culture, ‘Can these bones live?’ You can be at the top of your game and still be completely lost.  ‘I am the resurrection and the life…I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.’

But how do we get there?
The last point is the most ironic.  When Jesus reaches the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, there is a line that seems like a throwaway line but it is not.  Jesus asks the sisters, ‘where have you laid him?’  And they say, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Jesus does and he weeps.

If you are a careful reader, (and remember, when the gospels were first presented to the church, they were read aloud) you would note the repetition of the phrase ‘come and see.’
When the disciples first met Jesus they asked, ‘where are you staying’ and Jesus said, ‘come and see.’  Nathaniel said to Philip, ‘can anything good come from Nazareth?’  And Philip says, ‘come and see.’  When the Samaritan woman was on her evangelistic tour of her village, what did she say?  ‘Come and see the man…’

‘Come and see’ is an invitation to discipleship.  It is a call to believe and to follow.  Yet here the sisters say, ‘come and see a tomb,’ ‘come and see death.’

Come and see the way of Jesus.  ‘Whoever does not lose his life, will never find it…’  Jesus way is the way of death and entombment.  To find your life you must lose it.  To rise with Christ you must first realize you are walking in grave clothes.

You can be at the top of your game and still be completely lost.  That is, without Jesus as the center of everything you do and everything you are.  You can still be alive and vital and in shape and financially stable and be lost without Jesus.

Charles Schulz began his career with great faith, but fame and money drove him away.  He had affairs and paid more attention to the ‘kids’ in his strip than his real life kids.  Close to his death he said, ‘the poor kid never got a chance to kick the ball, what a dirty trick.’  Linus’ words from Luke were far away from him and it is said that he died angry and bitter.

The way of discipleship is illustrated by what Lazarus experiences in a very literal way.  If Nicodemas wants to know what it is to be born again, Lazarus is your man.  If you want to know the radical call of following Christ, which we reenact liturgically in baptism, just ask Lazarus.  Being in Christ is dying to yourself and being raised in and by Jesus Christ.  Forsaking, denying, walking away from, dying to–your way of doing things
and having Christ take it all.  As the silly Carrie Underwood song says, ‘Jesus take the wheel.’

You can be at the top of your game and still be completely lost.
Come and See the way of Jesus…