Lazarus; Jesus Bursting into
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.