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Edward F. Markquart


All Saints
Lazarus; Jesus Bursting into Tears

All Saints     John 11:1-26 (Also, Lent 5A)   

Today is All Saint’s Day in the life of our church.  Today is the day in which we remember people from our parish who have died this past year, members such as Bert Hause, Mariann Lewellyn, Myrtle Fraher, Elsie Todd, Doris Gould, Neal Moyer, Betty Seth, and Delaney Gardine.  We remember them, their families, the grief that they have experienced this past year. 

Today is also a day in which we remember our own loved ones who have died and gone to be with Jesus.  We remember our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, and dear friends who have gone before us.  It is like Memorial Day for us, and we pause during the day to remember these people.  For example, it was four years ago October 16th that my mother died; two years ago since my father died, and I remember them in a special way today.  In reality, I don’t think of them as being dead but alive with Jesus Christ, alive in paradise with God for all eternity.  And to be quite candid, my parents are very much alive and present here today, living inside of me and living inside of this sermon that I am giving.  Those who know me well know that my parents, Ede and Ed, are living inside of me.

Today is also a day in which we remember friends who have experienced death recently such as the Stephen Beer family on the death of his mother this past Friday and the Tim Madsen family on the death of his aunt.  Both families were surrounded by loving compassion during this past week, and friends supported them in their time of death.

So All Saint’s Day remembers those who died in the name of the Lord and gone to be with Jesus.  This is not to suggest that the word “saints” only refers to those who have died; rather, the word “saints” refers to all God’s sacred people, both the living and the dead.

To commemorate this All Saint’s Day, I have chosen a  “funeral story” from the New Testament; it is the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  To set the stage for this Gospel story, I need to give you some background.  There are four primary characters in this story:  Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  Martha, Mary and Lazarus were good friends of Jesus; the Bible says that he “loved” them.  They were the kind of good friends that you could drop over to their house, kick up your feet and just relax with, and Jesus seemed to visit their home often.  They were intimate and familiar friends with Jesus. 

We know the Martha and Mary story.  Jesus came to visit their home one day and Martha, the home owner and perhaps the oldest sister, was very busy. She was scurrying about, getting the meal ready for Jesus while Mary sat relaxed at Jesus’ feet, wanting to listen to him teach.  Martha reprimanded her younger sister for not helping her with the food preparation. Jesus suggested that quiet Mary had chosen the better part, and scolded busy Martha for being too busy being busy.  So we pick up on the dynamics of their relationship, an honesty, a repartee.  Then there is the other story where Jesus was again visiting their home, and in this story, sensitive Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil and then dries his feet with her long hair with loving and gentle kindness.  The Bible says that she was preparing him for his burial.  So we are aware of these stories about busy Martha and tender Mary, both dear friends of Jesus. 

Lazarus, the sister’s brother, was also Jesus’ close friend, the only close friend that is reported in the Bible, other than with John.  The Bible says that Jesus “loved” Lazarus.  Jesus was about thirty years old, and my guess is that Lazarus was about his age.  In other words, for me this is a story of having one of your close buddies die, like when my good friend, Ray Osterloh, died of cancer while a very young man.  I know and you know what it feels like to have a close buddy, a close friend die, and the story of Lazarus’ death is like that.

One other piece of background information.  The funeral rituals of that day were obviously different than ours.  When somebody died, there was no embalming but immediately the body was wrapped in linen clothing and put into the burial vault, a limestone cave carved into the limestone rock. There was intense mourning for seven days and less intense mourning for twenty-three more days.  But the first seven days were of intense grief and crying.

Now, here is the story for today.  It’s a classic story, with classic drama.  Lazarus was really sick and the two sisters sent word to Jesus, who had just healed a man born blind, that their brother Lazarus was very sick and perhaps soon to die.  Jesus got the message and waited two days. Why did Jesus wait two days?  All the commentaries argue as to why Jesus waited two days, but none agree.  The Bible says simply so that the will of God may be done.  So Jesus begans his way to the home of Lazarus, knowing that his friend had died.

On the way, strong, aggressive, “take charge” Martha came out to meet Jesus and gave him an angry earful.  “Jesus, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said:  “He will rise again.”  And Martha testily responded:  “I know he will rise again at the resurrection of the dead, but what good does that do us now?”  Then Jesus gave a word that has become one of the most treasured teachings of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever lives and believes in me will never die!”  Will never die!  It is one of the great lines of the Bible.  Then he asked one of the most important questions found in the Bible,  “Do you believe this, Martha?”  What a question.  Do you believe this?   Do YOU believe this?  That whoever lives and believes in me will never die?  Martha answered, “I believe.  I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God and that whoever lives and believes in you will never die.”  That is an incredible conversation, and we could stop here but the story continues.

Martha went back home to find her younger sister and told her that Jesus wanted to talk with her.  Mary left immediately with her grieving friends to find Jesus.  She too approached Jesus with the same testy reproach, “Jesus, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.” But before Jesus can say anything, Mary burst into tears and so did all her grieving friends.  What was Jesus’ response to her tears?  The Bible says that he was “deeply troubled,” but the Greek word underlying this says that Jesus “shuddered with sadness,”  that his body shook with emotion.  The word in classical Greek is used to refer to a horse, when it snorts, the horse’s whole body shakes, and so Jesus’ whole body shook or shuddered with emotion.  You and I have experienced this often in life, where a person is so grieved and sad, that their whole body shakes with sorrow.  Then came that classic line, the shortest verse in the Bible.  “Jesus wept.”  In our antiseptic way, we imagine a single tear running down his face.  Rather, the Greek suggests, Jesus “burst into tears.”  So here, in this little episode with sensitive Mary, there is no classic, eloquent teaching about eternal life. In fact, there are no words at all, but simply strong emotions and bursting tears that shake his body.

Within that Greek word for “shudders with sadness,” there is a connotation of anger, that Jesus was angry about something, and the scholars in the commentaries ponder what Jesus was angry about.  I know what Jesus was angry about:  he was angry that Lazarus died too soon, too young, that it all hurt inside.  I knew those feelings of anger when my good friend, Ray, died too young and too soon.  I was mad, really mad inside.  You know those feelings from your experiences as well.

The story continued.  Jesus finally reached the little village of Bethany and then approached the burial vault of his friend Lazarus.  The Bible says that he was again “deeply moved” as he approached the grave. His body again shuddered with sadness. Yes, a person often feels that way as you approach the grave itself.  It is a time of intense emotion.  He said, “Remove the stone.”  And Martha, as always, having her own mind, contradicted Jesus and said, “Why?  The body has been in the grave for four days already and it smells.” Jesus ignored her and the gravestone was rolled away.  Then Jesus said a beautiful prayer:  “My Father, you hear my prayers.  You always hear my prayers.  Grant my request so that these people may know that you have sent me.”  Jesus cried out with a loud voice:  “Lararus, arise.”  Lazarus came out of the grave vault, covered with linen wrappings.  Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go.”

What a story!  It was said of the Messiah.  You will know that the Messiah has come  when the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.  In the Gospel of John, this is the seventh and final and most important sign that the Messiah has come, for he has raised the dead. Jesus has raised his friend Lazarus from the dead who had been in the grave for four days.

So what shall we say about this story?

I first want to focus on the phrase, “shuddered with sadness.”  We all know that experience.  It is part of your life and mine.  I have been with many of you at these sacred moments, where the pain is so great, that all your body and emotions can do is shudder with sadness.  Or I recall leaving the home of young Peggy Arns after she had just died, leaving her two teenagers and a loving husband, driving around the corner and stopping the car and just sobbing into the steering wheel.  Yes, that is the way it is for us.  And for Jesus, the Son of God, too.

Some Christians will say, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way if you believe in God and believe in the resurrection.  Our loved one is going to a better place, to be with Jesus where there is no pain, so don’t cry so hard or feel so badly.”  Well, that isn’t the way it was with Jesus.  He believed in the resurrection, in eternal life, in the heavenly mansion, but he also shuttered with sadness at the loss of his friend.  In other words, Jesus was not only the Son of God, but also the son of man, fully human, sharing our grief and our sorrow.  He was the model of godly grief, fully human, fully sorrowful.  He even taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, who grieve, for they shall be comforted.”

Another thing that catches me in this story is that Mary was accompanied by her grieving friends who grieved with her.  There is something supportive and therapeutic about having friends around you who love you to grieve with you.  For example, this past week when Steve Beer’s mother died, their family and friends gathered around them to give them incredible support.  I have been with people when it has been just the opposite; when they grieve alone with no one around and there is a hollow echo to it all.  Or when the aunt of Tim Madsen died this past week; they had taken in their aunt to live with them three years ago; and now with the help of hospice, she had died.  What comfort Tim and his family had when friends came to be with them. 

That is what the church often is:  a community of Christ’s compassion and consolation to one another.  In our busy and active culture , we often don’t have time to live deeply with our feelings.  In our hurried up plastic world, we often don’t have time to share deep love or deep sorrow.  In our shallow materialistic world, we attempt to minimize death.  But not in the church.  We know love; we know grief; and we share it with one another.

I remember my cousin Lois’ funeral, coming back from Lake Oswego, Oregon, where she died as a young woman.  I was so proud to be part of the church.  I was proud of her priest who had visited her so faithfully, giving her the Sacrament.  I was so proud of her friends, nurses, reading teachers, who so faithfully were with Lois.  I was so proud of her congregation that rallied around her whole family.  Yes, I saw the church at its best when they supported Lois and her family through her death.   And that same kind of community was part of the story for today, with those friends of Mary gathering around her.  Yes, that is what the church is for.

The last thing I want to talk with you about is the classic line from John:  “I am the resurrection and the life;  whoever lives and believes in me will never die but live forever.  Do you believe this, Martha?”  I have been giving funerals now for three decades, and I have never done a funeral without quoting this famous passage from the Gospel of John. In the funeral reading of resurrection passages, I always include these words from John. I know these words well, deeply within my heart. I get to that line, “Do you believe this, Martha?”  I then pause, and say the name of the person whose funeral it is:  And Jan said.  And David said.   “I believe. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, and that whoever lives and believes in you will never die.”  In the funerals, it is a moment of triumph, that the deceased believes in Jesus Christ and will never die.

And I ask you that question this morning, the most important question in your life.  ________, do you believe?  Do you believe that Christ is the Son of the living God and that whoever lives and believes in him will never die?  Do you believe? What a question for you and me this morning. And how we answer that question affects everything we say and do. 

This past week, Dean Krippaehne visited by Adult Inquiry Class and I expected he would talk about being the leader of the Gospel Band and what that means here at Grace.  He didn’t talk about the Gospel Band at all.  Instead, he talked about how he used to believe in God, the Supreme Power of the Universe, but in recent years, he had come to know a living relationship with Jesus Christ.  He wasn’t quite sure how and when it all happened, but something had happened to him, and his was now a living, daily relationship with Jesus Christ. 

This past week, in my prayer group, Molly told how she used to get all dressed up fancy for church for she was going to worship God the King, but in recent years, she wears more casual clothes to church for she feels that she coming to be with Christ, her friend. Molly, do you believe?  Oh yes, she says enthusiastically, I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.  He is my best friend who is always with me.

So today is All Saint’s Day in the life of the church.  You don’t have to die and go to heaven to be a saint; we are all saints of the living God.  But it is All Saints Day and I am keenly aware of my mother and father who have died in recent years.  I want you to know that my mother and father are not dead;  you must understand that my mother and father are not dead even though their bodies were planted in our hometown cemetery.  My mother and father are fully alive with Christ in paradise.  I must confess that I talk to them quite often, almost on a daily basis. Yes, that is true.  And if you know who I am as a person, you are aware of my mother and father living inside of me at this very moment, speaking to you about the mysteries of God.  He who has ears to hear, let him understand the mysteries and riddles of the kingdom of God. Amen.

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