Lent 5 A - Lazarus is Raised

1: A sign of resurrection:

As Vice-President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow.  She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed.  Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed in Communist Russia: she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.  There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all made a gesture suggesting that her husband had been wrong.  She hoped that there was another way of life – a life best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that this same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband and raise him up on the Day of the Judgment.  (Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.)
2. Look, he's Moving!:

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: "What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?"
The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community. 
The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow," said another. 
The third friend said, I would like them to say, "Look, he's moving!!" 

Brett Blair,

From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) Carrying a dead soul in a living body? 

In Virgil, there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments that he used to chain a dead man to a living criminal.  It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden.  The carcass was bound fast to his body -- its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body.  Then he was put into a dungeon to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking dead body.  Many suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: "O wretched man that I am!"  Today’s readings invite us to turn away from sin, approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and revive the dead soul we are carrying within our body,  thus becoming  eligible for the glorious resurrection Jesus promised to believers at the tomb of Lazarus. 

2) Good news – bad news joke:

John and Jim were professional players with the Atlanta Braves who lived and breathed baseball. These guys breathed, discussed, ate, and slept baseball. One of their big concerns was whether there would be baseball in heaven. They loved baseball so much that they were not sure at all they wanted to spend eternity in heaven unless they could play baseball. They had an agreement that the first one who died would somehow get a message back to earth, letting the other know whether baseball was in heaven or not. Well, it happened. John died, and Jim grieved. He grieved for days - deeply saddened over his friend John’s death. About two weeks went by, and then it happened. Jim was awakened in the middle of the night by the calling of his name, “Jim, Jim, Jim, wake up! This is John.” “John, where are you?” “I’m in heaven - and I have some good news and bad news. It’s exciting, Jim. We do have baseball in heaven. It’s great. We play every day and there are marvelous teams, and tough, exciting competition.” “That’s great,” said Jim. “But what’s the bad news?” “Well,” said John, “You are scheduled to pitch next Tuesday.”


Good News all around us and I have good news for you: God has a resurrection for you! He wants to bring you out into the light again. He wants to bring you out of that tomb of oppression and give you a new start. And listen! He has the power to do it. He can bring you back to life.

This powerful story in John 11 speaks to this. Remember it with me. Mary and Martha who live in Bethany are some of Jesus' closest friends... They send word to him that their brother, whose name is Lazarus, is desperately ill. "Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast." But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died... and has been in his grave for four days. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they express their grief: "He's gone. We've lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died." 

The family and friends have gathered and in their deep sorrow, they begin to weep over the loss of their loved one, Lazarus. The heart of Jesus goes out to them... and Jesus weeps with them. He loved Lazarus, too... and he loves them... and he shares their pain. Jesus goes out to the cave-like tomb and he says to them: "Roll back the stone!" Martha, always the realist and ever ready to speak out, protests: "But Lord, we can't do that. He has been in the grave for 4 days. By now there will be a terrible odor." Jesus says to her: "Martha, only believe and you will see the power of God." 

So they roll the stone away... and Jesus cries out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come forth!" And incredibly, miraculously, amazingly, before their very eyes... Lazarus is resurrected! He comes out of the tomb. He still has on his grave clothes. His head and feet are still wrapped with mummy-like bandages. Jesus then turns to the friends and family and says to them, "Unbind him and let him go. Unwrap him and set him free." 

In this graphic and dramatic story, three awesome lessons jump out at us. Three great truths emerge which can be so helpful to us today. Let me list them for us: Jesus wept with those he loved and he still does. Jesus raised people up and he still does. Jesus included others in the healing process... and he still does...
Springtime is the season of uncontained optimism.  

As the days grow longer, and the sun grows stronger, it feels time to do something outrageous. We dig into the earth, carefully plow and pulverize hard clods into fine loam. We remove the weeds and grasses. We add extra nutrients to enrich the prepared soil. Then into that lush, fertile mixture we gently deposit . . . dried up, shriveled, little (sometimes downright tiny), seemingly completely dead bits of matter. We call them "seeds." 

Nothing looks less "lively" than a seed. The tiniest ones--lettuces, carrots, radishes--are so minuscule that planting them is like putting into the soil grains of coarse black pepper. Corn and beans "look" like corn kernels and soup beans. Well, they look like corn kernels and beans that have been lost on the floor of your pantry for six months or so, rejected even by the mice. Definitely NOT "good eats." And yet we joyfully plunge these desiccated crumbs into the soil we have sweated over, completely confident that something will come out of our efforts.  

Springtime is the season of belief. Every spring we believe in the power of the life that lives within those apparently dead seed husks. We believe that just a few handfuls of seeds can produce a glorious new crop to nourish our lives and feed our families.

Of course, bringing that potential crop to full fruition takes a lot more than simply dropping seeds into the ground and walking away. As every backyard gardener or full-time farmer knows, once you put those babies into the soil you are in a relationship with that garden, with those fields, with the weather. Seeds require constant nurturing - watering, weeding, protection from predators, large and small. New life comes from within the seed. But ensuring the continuation of that potential new life comes from an ongoing relationship with that life, our commitment to doing all we can to ensure that every single seed becomes part of yet another new harvest. 

This week's epistle text is Paul's springtime seed catalog... 
Giving Thanks for Our Trouble 

Ours is a God who does not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted and does not hide his face from them." There is always a sense in which great living is found in the midst of suffering and tears. 

An old Yiddish folk story tells of a well-to-do gentleman of leisured much interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. He visited a wise rabbi to ask a question. He said: "I think I grasp the sense and meaning of these writings except for one thing. I cannot understand how we can be expected to give God thanks for our troubles." The rabbi knew instantly that he could not explain this with mere words. He said to the gentleman: "If you want to understand this, you will have to visit Isaac the water-carrier." The gentleman was mystified by this, but knowing the rabbi to be wise, crossed to a poor section of the settlement and came upon Isaac the water-carrier, an old man who had been engaged in mean, lowly, backbreaking labor for some fifty years. 

The gentleman explained the reason for his visit. Isaac paused from his labors. Finally, after several minutes of silence, looking baffled, he spoke: "I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men. But I cannot understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can't answer it because I've had nothing but wonderful things happen to me. I thank God every morning and night for all his many blessings on me and my family." 

It is true, is it not? The pure in heart see God. The humble in spirit know Christ's joy and enter into God's glory. "For I consider," writes Paul, "that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
 Joy Unbounded, Glory Fulfilled

 Pastor/Bishop Kenneth Ulmer (Inglewood, California) envisions the animating, life-fulfilling power of the Holy Spirit as like the transformation that comes over the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon figures as they're inflated. Without any air these huge balloons lay flat on the floor, limp, and featureless figures. But when the wind starts whipping up inside those balloons, they begin to rise, stand up, and stand tall. They become individuals, people and creatures that we recognize and love. Once on the parade route, these balloons take on even more life, for they are animated not just by the air within them, but by the winds that buffet and bolster them down the street. 

In today's gospel text, Jesus doesn't appear before Martha and Mary - who are in agony over the death of their brother Lazarus - just to bring them a casserole. Jesus doesn't cluck his tongue and concede that Lazarus' death is a tragedy. 

Jesus goes to his best friend's tomb and calls out, "Lazarus, come forth!" As experienced by Ezekiel and the psalmist, once again the animating spirit of God moves with power and precision, and brings a dead man walking right out of his tomb! This is what God settles for. Miracle, rebirth, deliverance from the pit, and eternal redemption. God doesn't define winning as not losing. God doesn't settle for anything less than joy unbounded, and glory filled dreams fulfilled. 

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
The Way Out 

Most everyone has worked one of those mazes where you follow the right path to find your way out. As you move your pencil through the maze you keep running into dead ends until you find the one path that sets you free.

Life is a lot like living in a maze. We continue to take wrong turns which lead nowhere and often retrace our steps until we can find our way. It can be very frustrating. Sometimes we never do find our way out. Those are the times we are stuck and feel like a prisoner with no escape.

Today I want to help set you free. I believe that no matter how difficult the maze you live in may seem, there is always a way out. Not even death can stand in the way of your life's journey.

Keith Wagner, Only One Way Out
 The Third Day 

It was a popular belief that soul and body were finally separated after 3 days -- with no hope of resuscitation. Lazarus' resurrection thus points to Jesus' resurrection. The event forces decision on belief or disbelief in Jesus; his enemies understand that the die is cast. It is this decisiveness for faith, in a miracle that surpasses any possibility of rational explanation, that gives the incident its primary dramatic tension.  

Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary: John, p. 720 _______________________
Sunday's A Comin' 

Tony Campolo tells the story of a black Baptist preacher in the inner city of Philadelphia who preached a sermon Tony says he'll never forget. Tony preached first. He was "hot," so "hot" he says, that he even stopped and listened to himself. He sat down and said to his pastor: "Now see if you can top that one!" 

"Son," said the black pastor, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." For an hour and a half the pastor repeated these words over and over again: "It's Friday, but Sunday's a comin'."

"I've never heard anything like it," Tony said. "He just kept saying it. The congregation was spellbound by the power of it." 

"It's Friday. Mary, Jesus' mother is crying her eyes out. That's her son up there on the cross. He's dying the agonizing death of crucifixion as a criminal. But it's only Friday," the preacher said. "Sunday's a comin'.

"The apostles were really down and out. Jesus, their leader, was being killed by evil men. But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'.

"The Devil thought he had won. 'You thought you could outwit me,' he said, 'but I've got you now.' But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

"He went on like that for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. Each time he said, 'It's Friday,' the crowd began to respond, 'but Sunday's comin'. An hour and 15 minutes.

"It's Friday and evil has triumphed over good. Jesus is dying up there on the cross. The world is turned upside down. This shouldn't happen. But it's only Friday. Sunday's a comin'.

"It's Friday. But Sunday is comin'. Mary Magdalene was out of her mind with grief. Her Lord was being killed. Jesus had turned her life from sin to grace. Now he was dead. But it's only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

The place was rocking. For an hour and a half. "Friday! But Sunday is a comin'. Friday. But Sunday is a comin'. 

"The sisters and the brothers are suffering. It just isn't fair...all they have to go through, but it's only Friday. Sunday is comin'."

"I was exhausted," Tony said. "It was the best sermon I've ever heard. The old preacher was saying it and the people were with him. 'It's Friday, but Sunday is a comin'. It was powerful," Tony said. "It was personal."

Ronald J. Lavin, I Am the Resurrection and the Life,

I Will Be More Alive

 One of my favorite quotations, one I have used over and over again at funerals, comes from that great evangelist of the last century, Dwight L. Moody. Moody said, "One day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Well, don't believe a word of it. I will have gone up higher, that's all. Out of this old clay tenement into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And at that moment, I will be more alive than I have ever been."

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons,
Run the Film in Reverse

When I was a child I used to love walking into Miss Hammond's 4th grade classroom to discover the shades drawn and a 16 mm projector set up facing the pull-down screen. This was more than the joy of knowing I wouldn't be asked to answer questions, read aloud, or work out problems on the black-board. For when there was time following the movie, rather than rewind the film, Miss Hammond would show the picture in reverse. We laughed hysterically at the antics produced on the screen: things which had disintegrated suddenly were reconstituted, buildings shaken to pieces by earthquakes took previous shape before our eyes, people who had been knocked to the ground suddenly sprang back to life. That is what these lessons are about today -- God's power to run the film in reverse, to reverse the initiatives of infinitude, to overcome the gravity of life, to address a problem in life which you and I cannot solve.

Fred Anderson, A Problem You Cannot Solve