Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus Christ = Resurrection and Life

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.” (John 11:1-2)

Some gospels say she was the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Other says she was a different Mary. A not so socially acceptable Mary. It would interesting to know if it was one and the same Mary – the Mary who was socially acceptable, who sat at Jesus’s feet, and who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But I digress – the focus is on Lazarus.

“So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (Verse 3)

In the time of Jesus, any illness had the potential for being serious as medicine then did not follow the same regime as it does now. On with the story.

“But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Verses 4 – 16)

I want to insert briefly that Thomas meant die with Jesus, assuming that the Jews in Judea would be successful in killing Jesus.

“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (Verses 17 – 22)

Martha had faith in Jesus, and knowledge of who Jesus was (and is still). It was not then that Martha needed to be told and reminded of God’s glory and Jesus being part of that glory. Or at least not very much.

“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.” (Verses 23 – 29)

I have in the past wondered what it was about Lazarus that made him worthy of being resurrected. But as I ponder on this passage, I am starting to think it was not Lazarus per se but when it Jesus’ ministry that Lazarus became ill and died. Lazarus was not the only person that Jesus brought back to life. Nor was Jesus the only one who brought back from the dead. Elijah did also. But it was at this point in Jesus’ ministry that connection between Jesus being Lord over life and death was made. Let us read further in this story.

“Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (Verses 30 – 33)

I have to ask, and I would have to ask the writer of the gospel of John – why the difference? Martha says if Jesus would have been there Lazarus would not have died, assuming that Jesus would have healed him. But Mary says the same thing, and Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The biblical commentators reflect two causes; being by the total scene of mourning OR being indignant at the false mourning and weeping that the Jews accompanying Mary were doing. There was such a profession as being professional weepers and mourners to give sound and numbers at funerals. The writer of the gospel John might have made note of such as these, and having Jesus react to them. Or, Jesus upon seeing the woman who wept for him, wept on her behalf. Let us continue the story.

“He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verses 34 – 37)

Criticism and cynicism noted by the writer of the gospel of John, and Jesus reacts.

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.” Verse 38)

I can see where the two interpretations to Jesus’ grief and disturbance came from. I should not forget that many times the writers of the gospel were also acute observers of the society of the time.

“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” (Verses 39 – 45)

Power over life and death. It is hard not to believe when you see such dramatic proof. But while some did believe, there were others who were angered (or perhaps more accurately, frightened) at the display/report of such power. The verses that follow this passage tell of the reaction of Jewish/Temple authorities and their fear. And the story of Jesus’ ministry moves one step closer to its conclusion.

These events of Jesus’ life are remembered and set down to explain what was to come. While each of the gospels might differ somewhat, they form a cohesive story of what Jesus did. And with these stories in hand, generation after generation has had to decide whether they believe or not.

While we are in the season of Lent, we are also in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary – the year of coming to new faith. In the early Christian church, the season of Lent and Easter was a preparatory time of coming to faith. May you use this time to ponder on your own faith, perhaps coming to new understandings. I pray that you faith in grounded in the strong foundation of who Jesus Christ was, and is to you. And the place of our Lord God in your life. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Seeing the Glory of God, and remembering those who have passed into it (The Gospel Passage)

There are two options for the readings for this week. The first option is for when this Sunday (Nov 1st) as All Saint’s Day NOT celebrated/commemorated on the Sunday. The second option is when Sunday is All Saint’s Day. I have chosen the second option. The alternate readings are Ruth 1:1-18, Psalms 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, and Mark 12:28-34. Good passages all, and I looked at them first before I realized there was this second option.

I have been to services in several faith traditions that celebrate All Saint’s Day, and they have all been moving services. So I did not want to have the opportunity pass to speak to the passages that the RCL Year B has.

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)

That is not to say they are the easier passages to write about. I was thinking about what to say about the story of Ruth, especially when her story spreads out over several weeks. But I can easily bring you up to date, beloved reader, on how her story began. It is a story of faith and devotion. But here too we have a story of faith and devotion. Jesus had become fast and devoted friends with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. These two inestimable women provided some teaching what it is better to do in life; serve or listen and learn. Both are important. Back to their story though.

Lazarus had passed away. Jesus knew this and yet tarried where he was. Could he have preserved Lazarus’ life if he had been there? We do not know. And in Mary’s accusation (or assertion) we hear the echo of “how could God let this happen?” How could Jesus have let his friend die?

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (Verses 33-36)

It is said one of the shortest verses in the bible was, “Jesus wept.” One of the most moving too. The Lord Jesus we and the world knows as the Redeemer and Conqueror of death is moved by the passing of his friend and the grief that is before him. Even though Jesus must know the outcome of this, he wept.

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verse 37)

Here is the question again; why did this need to happen if Jesus is Ruler over life and death. What is the point and reason, we ask of suffering? Why must there be those who suffer? This story does not answer that question. But perhaps it was never meant to.

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.” (Verses 38 to 41a)

To see the glory of God is as much a miracle as miracles themselves. But the “glory of God” is not a random and infrequent thing. Indeed, the glory of God is ever present and ongoing. It’s just that we don’t pay much attention to it unless it is attached to some spectacular, like a miracle.

And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (Verses 41b to 44)

A miracle! The “glory of God” comes through again!

But I tell you again beloved reader, the glory of God is always with us. God is always with us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are always with us. In the face of death, and all other calamities, the Divine is there. We do not know what can be prevented and undone. It is not within our knowledge to know that.

This passage is, of course, meant to under gird the remembrance of those who have passed from our faith circles. That is the rationale and reason for All Saint’s Day, to remember those who have passed from this world to the next. It comes after All Hallow’s Evening, which is the time that the specter of death is pushed away by disguises and eating certain foods. It is thought to have been, as so many Christian feast/celebration days, a pagan celebration that was “Christianized.” That is, church leaders untold centuries ago took pagan celebrations and made them into Christian celebrations, since the people of that time got together anyway and they did not want pagan traditions and rituals to overwhelm the Christian faith. (History lesson done.)

So my desire to focus on the presence of God’s glory is in keeping with intent of these two days. Though certainly not an attempt to dissuade from secular celebrations. We live in modern times; the past reaches out to us in many ways, biblical scripture passages being just one. It has always been my hope and intent to bring scripture into our modern world and make it a part of our everyday experiences.

(Now comes the blessing.) May you, beloved reader, see God’s glory in the world. And may you remember that God’s glory is with us always, as are memories of those who have passed from this world before us. Selah!

Reign of God – Living and dying with God

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”   (John 11:25-26)

Today was a tough day, gentle reader (the day I wrote this, that is) and I came home tired – dead tired. But after spending time with family and unwinding, I started to feel better.

Lazarus started to feel better on the day Jesus came to visit him, and on the occasion these verses depict. He could not have felt worse, as he was dead. So coming back to life was a definite improvement! But . . . considering the fact that Lazarus is not around today, we can safely assumed he died . . . again. What a gift that must have been for Lazarus and his family! Not only in terms of emotional familial connects, but pragmatically also. In Jesus’ time a woman depended on her family, either family of origin or family of marriage, for her support and position in society. That is what makes Jesus’ statement to Martha so direct and poignant. He is offering not only Lazarus another chance at life, but Martha too.

What would it be worth to you, gentle reader, to have a second chance with a loved one who has passed away? I cannot promise you will have that chance in this lifetime, in fact to be honest it is highly unlikely. Lazarus was a one-time thing. But miracles happen . . .

But Jesus promised Martha – if she believed – that Jesus would give her life that does not end. The details, however, are not as simple and straightforward as our human understanding would demand. This reality that we are in, is not the only existence that is in store for humanity. Jesus said, in essence, that he (or he and God) holds all life in his hands. And what is our truest essence in life is held safe by our Lord. The key to this is found in the Greek that the word “life” found here is both physical and spiritual (particularly future) life. And the verb “to live” means “to live by experiencing God’s gift of life.”

Do you feel short changed? Are you disappointed that you will not live for eternity at the address you currently have? Do you WANT to live there for all eternity? God and Jesus have something much better in mind for us. Life as we have never lived it before! All possible under God’s reign!

May you gentle reader live fully now, and by so living according to God’s guidance may you live even more fully in the life to come. Selah!