Sunday’s reading tells a dramatic story about loss, faith, community support and new life. In the 11th chapter of John, we meet a family in crisis. Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, were close personal friends of Jesus. Jesus spent time in their home in Bethany near Jerusalem whenever he passed through. They had shared many enjoyable evenings together. Jesus was teaching one day when word came that Lazarus was sick and would probably die: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” By the time Jesus and his disciples made their way to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Tradition was that when someone died their spirit hovered around for three days before departing. Four days dead meant he was really completely dead.
When Martha heard that Jesus was approaching she went running out to meet him. Her first words to Jesus were, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus assured her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said, “Yes, I know that he will rise on the last day,” thinking that was what Jesus meant. But Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus asked Martha if she believed what he told her. Martha replied, “Yes, Lord.”
Martha went back home, apparently not expecting anything to come from her conversation with Jesus. Martha told her sister, Mary that “the Teacher is here and is calling for you.” Mary got up at once and ran out of the house to meet Jesus. Mary found Jesus at the same place her sister had left him. She knelt at his feet and repeated what her sister had said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Mary was grieving uncontrollably over her brother’s death.
The family and friends gathered and in their deep sorrow, they began to weep over the loss of their loved one, Lazarus. The heart of Jesus went out to them, and Jesus wept with them. He loved Lazarus, too, he loved them, and he shared their pain. Jesus went out to the cave where Lazarus’ body lay behind a large stone and he said, “Roll back the stone!” Martha immediately protested, “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?”
So they rolled the stone away, and Jesus cried out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” Imagine how astounded the crowd was when Lazarus came stumbling out of the tomb, still in his shroud, his face and hands and feet still wrapped in bands of cloth like a mummy. Jesus then turns to the friends and family and says to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”
In this graphic and dramatic story, we see deep darkness give way to the light of a new dawn. We see weeping give way to rejoicing. We see death give way to life. We see captivity give way to freedom. This is the work of Christ that we celebrate during this holy season.
What does this mean for you and me and for our world? How can we see in the dispelling of darkness for Lazarus a message of darkness giving way to dawn for us?
I look forward to our time of worship this Sunday at 11:00 in Sanctuary worship, in-person and livestreamed.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
John 11:32-44, Common English Bible
32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”
40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”