Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Its not about the tomb John 11:1-45

We're getting closer to death and to Easter both in our lives and in time this year as the days on the calendar tick by like clockwork. Easter is coming; but before God's full is revealed in the greatest day after we sink down into the worst days. Temptation, sin, isolation, disability, and death creep up on us in life. This year the scripture readings for Lent have lead us deeper into suffering. In this week's gospel we meet grief head on. Lazarus was dead. Martha and Mary wept along with their friends and neighbors. Even Jesus came and wept along side of them near the tomb. But lets not be stuck here at the tomb. Dan Wheeler says, “The tomb isn't the point of this story.” The tomb was there, but it wasn't the goal. The tomb in Lazarus' story, in Jesus' story, and the story of every Christian who believes in Jesus' resurrection is only a point along the way to the fullest revelation of God's glory.

In our Gospel lesson we hear this story of a deep grief in Jesus' life. Two sisters, in a family Jesus cared about mourned after their brother's death. Martha and Mary knew hope in their friend Jesus but they knew many reasons to weep in their brother's death. Jesus came and wept with them because their grief and his grief over Lazarus' death was so very real. We can be tempted to spiritualize Lazarus' story, and that's good to a point, if it helps us see Christ's power to overcome problems that seem to great for us here and now. But don't forget the end of this story and the point of the Gospel. Jesus came to overcome death and not just today's problems. Fred Craddock writes wisely,

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are not simply props for a spiritual story. They are real people trapped in death and grief, and Jesus brings comfort and life. Jesus was a real human being ministering among the suffering. But John wants us to understand that God’s blessing did not come solely to certain people who happened to be in that place at that time.1

As you read keep your eyes on the way the story ends. New life in Christ triumphs over death. Death and suffering are real parts of the Christian experience as much as they are parts of the human experience. The difference is that Christians suffer and grieve in hope. Martin Luther wrote of the people gathered around Lazarus' sisters,

...they were earthly, so that they were unable to refrain from weeping and the people had come to them to console them because of the death of their brother, as the evangelist describes so skilfully. From this we learn that they were all in unbelief and sin. And then we see how kindly the Lord deals with them, praying and weeping with them, and all this at the behest of his Father. This is the true guidebook, from which we learn the will of the eternal Father.2

Perhaps we have forgotten the humanity of the people we think are holy and always saintly. Perhaps we feel fear in telling God the truth as we There are so many unanswered questions about the people in this story and how their place in this story is connected to other stories in the gospels. There are so many rabbit trails to follow along the way–

What kind of family was this? Where were the parents? How old was Lazarus?

Are these the same Martha and Mary who squabbled and fought once when Jesus came to visit?

What about Mary who had anointed Jesus feet with oil and wiped them with her hair--Why do so many speak her terrible reputation?

These and other rabbit trails might yield some information about Jesus, his friends and their humanity. Perhaps we need to see who we, and all who follow Christ really are. Martin Luther explains,

That’s why I should like sermons about the saints to be more moderate in the sense that we would also tell how they fell, in accord with the gospel, not the books of rhetoric. For there can be no doubt that they too tripped and stumbled over great humps. They were of one flesh with us, one faith, one baptism, one blood. But we have now set them so high above us that we must despair of imitating them.3

The message here is Christ who has power over death not that we need to be just like the most perfect saint. We follow in the footsteps not only of Jesus as we walk past the graves of this world. We walk in the footsteps of sinners who God has made saints through the gift of faith.

1 Fred Cradock A Twofold Death and Resurrection (Jn. 11:25-26) Christian Century, March 21-28, p. 299 hosted online at

2 Martin Luther, vol. 51, Luther's Works, Vol. 51 : Sermons I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1959), Vol. 51, Page 48. 3 Ibid. Page 48-49.

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