Saturday, April 1, 2017

Picking a Fight With Death

Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN
Lent 5/April 2, 2017/John 11:1-45
Installation of Pr. Kristina Waters

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In this gospel lesson we come across two of the Bible’s most precious gems.

One of these gems is verse 25, where Jesus declares:  “I am the resurrection and the life…”

The other comes ten verses later:  “Jesus began to weep” or as an older translation put it: “Jesus wept”—the shortest verse in the Bible.

The first of these two verses cheers us when we mourn:  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  

The second of these gems is cheers squirrelly confirmation students seeking an easy short Bible verse to memorize.  John 11:35 is like the free square in the center of the Scrabble board:  “Jesus wept.”  Check!

All kidding aside, these two verses encapsulate this entire 11th chapter of St John’s Gospel.  

Because one of the things everyone needs to know about Jesus is that he wept.  

Jesus was and is truly human, really one of us.  

Jesus wasn’t protected from life’s hard edges.  He didn’t get a “free pass” from the dregs of our existence.

“Jesus wept.”   John doesn’t pinpoint precisely why Jesus wept.   Was it on account of his deep affection for Lazarus and his sisters?  Did he regret not getting to Bethany sooner, before Lazarus died?  Or did Jesus weep because everyone else was weeping?  Or did Lazarus’s death remind Jesus of his own impending death.

“Jesus wept.”   Let those two words sink in:  we have a Savior whose tear ducts are fully functional.

“Jesus wept” even as we have wept and we shall weep again….because losing loved ones is awful, because death is—literally!-- the pits.

“Jesus wept,” sums up one key thread of this story.   God’s Word in human flesh knew grief intimately. 

But these were not tears of despair.  Verse 33 mentons that 
“when Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”  

“Greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” –that phrase depicts Jesus shuddering, being shaken to the core, angry even at the horrible hold death has on us!

Jesus groans as he approaches Lazarus’s grave, because he knows in his bones that this just isn’t right—this state of affairs shall not stand!

In Jesus’ tears there’s an undercurrent of righteous anger—indeed a defiance of death stirring deep within Jesus.  

Jesus travels to Bethany to pick a fight with death—to announce that death is about to be up-ended.

Which leads us to the other gem in this lesson:  “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Jesus speaks these words in response to Martha who at first chided Jesus for dilly-dallying and then—in the same breath--voiced her hope that Lazarus would rise again on the Last Day, the Resurrection Day….

….but Jesus cut her off with one of the most astonishing promises in the Gospels:  “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Here, Jesus snatches the hope of a future resurrection and ushers it right into the present moment boldly announcing that in him the resurrection is already walking around on two feet.  Life itself is pushing its way through the mourners wailing at Lazarus’s tomb. 
Jesus goes beyond promising resurrection and life in God’s good time.

He insists that he, Jesus is the resurrection and the life, right here, right now.

And that’s why Jesus didn’t scurry off to Bethany the moment he heard of Lazarus’s mortal illness.   Jesus waited  so that Lazarus could get “good and dead,” four days in the grave, all traces of his spirit having vanished from the scene….

Jesus needed Lazarus to be really dead so that folks would witness God’s power not just to prevent death but to undo death.

Jesus arrives in Bethany, seemingly too late, with the stench of decay already in the air.  He waits for just the right moment, when all seems utterly lost, in order to take charge of the situation.

For in Jesus the Resurrection and the Life has arrived to pick a fight with Death—and that’s a fight that Death is surely going to lose.

As if all that were not enough, Jesus commandeers those around him to help him finish this astonishing miracle.
Isn’t it fascinating that instead of crawling into the tomb and single-handedly dragging Lazarus out—Jesus calls to Lazarus, Jesus issues an executive order fully confident that dead Lazarus will hear it and obey.

And then when Lazarus shuffles to the door of his tomb, Jesus hustles the whole community into action:  “Unbind him, and let him go.”   Come on, folks--turn Lazarus loose!

Let’s call this “Round One” in a three-round battle that our Lord waged with Death.  

Virtually every detail in our gospel lesion foreshadows another drama, soon to play out in Jerusalem.

The late great preacher Fred Craddock observes, “The passion of Jesus bleeds through the surface of [this] story…. Jesus is experiencing something like a Gethsemane, for he knows that calling Lazarus out of the tomb means that he must enter it.”[1] 
When Jesus was arrested, tried, executed and buried he dealt Death a knockout punch.   Let’s call that “Round Two” in our Lord’s fight-to-the finish with Death.   As we shall celebrate in two weeks, the Resurrection and the Life won that round—for you and me and all people.

But there’s even more:  the story of Lazarus, along with the passion of our Lord Jesus….these core narratives of faith “bleed through” into our own lives of following Jesus today.

We weep—as Jesus wept—because death still robs us so cruelly, so brazenly.

We weep though, as persons who feel it in our bones that this sad state of affairs shall not stand.  

Our Risen Lord Jesus is seeing to that!   Whatever sort of “tomb” we may be stuck in—Jesus is always calling us out of the darkness into the light..

Let’s call this “Round Three” in the battle between death and the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is still catching us up in this fight to the finish with death.   

Jesus “calls us out”—out of whatever tomb holds us captive.

And—lo and behold—Jesus even enlists us, to be part of the action, calling out others….setting free those whom Jesus places in our paths, just as Jesus enlisted Lazarus’s neighbors to unwrap the bands of grave-cloths, and turn him loose.

This is, in fact, the most critical thing that marks us…not just as a happy club to belong to, but as the community of Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, even now, here today.

Pastor Kristina, I can imagine no better watchword for you, as today you formally assume your ministry as Pastor for Community.

May you, may all of us, never forget that this community lives every day between “Jesus wept” and Jesus’ promise: “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.” 

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

[1] Fred Craddock, “A Twofold Death and Resurrection,” The Christian Century, March 21-28, 1999.

No comments:

Post a Comment