5th Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020
John 11:17-27, 38-53
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the assigned Gospel lesson from John 11.
My dear friends,
Now that we’ve been “sheltering in place” for a week or so, many of us are becoming more familiar with our TV remotes. I have 2. One remote controls my TV. It has 44 buttons; I use about 3 of them. My other remote controls my Comcast/Xfinity service and I use that one much more. My favorite remote buttons have to be pause and rewind/fast-forward. These buttons on the remote control allow me to pause or replay my favorite moments in sports or movies or even pause a live broadcast and then resume when I come back into the room. Too cool. But what if we could use them on the Bible?
You know today’s Gospel narrative, right? Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus is sick (11:1). He waits a couple of days, then heads for Bethany. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has died. Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters, both hope Jesus will still help. And Jesus does, though not without first weeping. He raises Lazarus back to life, leading Caiaphas and the Jewish religious leadership to begin their plot to kill Jesus.
What’s your favorite part? Pause. Mine would be…Rewind…Jesus words to Martha: (ἐγώ εἰμι)“I am the resurrection and the life” (v 25). Jesus has come to save the day, and not even death can stop him. And what about Martha’s words in reply? Fast forward to verse 27: “Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Who would have thought that poor, “preoccupied with housework” Martha could say something so profound?
Then…Fast Forward…there’s that scene at the tomb. Amazing, right? They were all worried about the smell, and understandably so. When a person breathed the last breath and the heart stopped beating, the eyes of the deceased were reverentially closed, the entire body was washed and anointed with oil, and the hands and feet were then wrapped in linen bands. The body, clothed in a favorite garment, was then wrapped with sheets. Spices of myrrh and aloes were placed in the folds of the garment to perfume the body for as long as possible. The reality is…decaying flesh stinks, so family members did what they could to maintain some air quality by minimizing the lingering odors coming from tombs.
Lazarus was dead. Dead in every way. Body prepared for permanent burial. He had been in the tomb 4 days, 1 more than required for absolute death in people’s eyes and by Jewish legal definition. And to a totally dead man, Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out” (v 43). And he does! Now that’s rewind worthy!
Wait a minute (v 35). Why are there tears on Jesus’ face? Back that up! Rewind. Something’s wrong here. The hero isn’t supposed to be crying (John 11:35). Why is he crying? All along Jesus has been Mister Calm, Cool, and Collected, except for maybe with the money changers in the Temple. And now tears? When did you ever see John Wayne cry? Perhaps they’re for Mary and Martha. He is a compassionate guy, and you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved by their heartache, right? But still, he knows what’s about to happen. All of that sadness is about to be replaced with joy! He is the resurrection, planning all along to give life to the newly-dead Lazarus, and yet he cries? Something here still doesn’t add up.
Hit the Pause right there. Use “pause” and advance the scene frame by frame. Check out his eyes! Watch him as if on TV in your mind and see Jesus as he looks at Mary and then over at the crowd. Wow! It’s like he sees them and yet sees past them. It’s almost as though . . .
Did Jesus hit His own fast-forward? Does he cry because maybe he sees another Mary, his mother, weeping, in the company of mourners? Does he hear the accusations: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Mat 27:42 ESV)” (Mt 27:42)? Does he feel the pain of a rescue that doesn’t come? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Does he see another tomb, but this time it’s his body that’s laid inside? Perhaps. On this side of heaven, we’ll never know for certain.
Let’s Fast-Forward too. The tears of Jesus, though very real, are momentary. They pass, and Jesus calls forth Lazarus in a resurrection that not only foreshadows his, but ours also. Jesus raises Lazarus, knowing full well that it will finally mobilize his enemies to get him killed. That, however, has been his plan all along—a plan that, ironically, is left to Jesus’ chief human adversary, Caiaphas, to explain (vv 49–50). Jesus has come to die for his people and, by so doing, gather all God’s children together (vv 51–52) for life that will not die.
It’s pretty obvious maybe this past week I’ve watched a bit too much TV. Maybe we all have. Put down the remote. This is the best weather we have in Florida all year. Go outside; go for a walk. And who knows? Maybe this COVID-19 is just what we needed. This is the first time that many generations have truly been tested by difficulty and doing without. Maybe if we spend some “alone” time, we will have a greater appreciation for what we have and not complain about what we don’t have. Maybe we as a nation will stop being so selfish and self-centered.
Maybe, when we get through this, we’ll have new priorities in life, new perspectives, a new outlook on life. It would seem there’s much more of this story left to tell. And there is…just wait until next week. Whether we gather in church yet remains to be seen, but maybe when we “rewind” this time in our lives, we will realize that the hope we have in Christ is something very real, especially in the face of disease and death knowing that God in Christ overcomes both, and I’d watch that over and over any time.