Ezekiel 37, 12-14 + Psalm 130 + Romans 8, 8-11 + John 11, 1-45 (Lectionary Cycle A)
March 13, 2016 at St William Church in Naples, FL
In this Gospel, John is not telling a story about Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. John is presenting a “sign”, one of several that make up the outline or framework of the Fourth Gospel. Because it is a sign and not a miracle story, there are a lot of details that get confusing if you simply think this is a miracle story. For instance: why did Jesus take so long to go to Bethany, or is Lazarus going to die again and leave his two sisters to grieve twice? At the very beginning we are told by John that this is for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it. This is not about a family crises in Bethany. It is about the crisis of the world caught up in death and sin. It is not about a corpse being resuscitated nearly as much as it is about giving life to the world.
This text is like a thin sheet of paper laid on top of another. There are words here, and there is a story, but bleeding through from beneath there is another message, the real one. This story is like a shadow that tells us something about the real event that is happening in the light. The story of Lazarus is a sign, and for us this weekend, it is a sign pointing us toward what we will celebrate, acknowledge, and affirm as the foundation of our faith in two weeks. This story is full of clues if you read the story carefully. We are told that the end of this story will be the glorifying of the Son. Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” You see, it is pointing toward the death of Jesus and his resurrection, not to the death of Lazarus. Notice that Jesus is deeply moved and troubled, that he weeps, that the tomb is near Jerusalem, that it is a cave with a large stone covering the entrance that must be rolled back. Jesus cries out in a loud voice – remember that he does that from the cross. Then, the grave cloths are removed from one dead but now alive, and we should think of the grave cloths removed and folded in an empty tomb. John wants us to think of Jesus, not focus on Lazarus.
Lazarus left the tomb, and the price of that was that Jesus had to enter it. Jesus himself said that one cannot give life unless one dies. He made no exception for his own case. This willingness to submit to the giving of life, which he had asked of his disciples, is dramatically stated when Jesus asked where Lazarus had been laid, they said to him, “Come and see.” Do you remember what he said when he called his disciples from their old lives as fishermen: “Come and See?”
It’s all here for us now, the way to life, the way to glory, the way to the Father. A weeping Jesus does not weep so much for Lazarus as he weeps for all of this world still trapped in death and violence, trapped in tombs of doubt and fear. As the weeping Jesus dries the tears of Martha and Mary, he does so for all who share and speak the faith Martha proclaims. The life and the glory that he shares with us is not cheap or easy. It means service, suffering, sacrifice, perseverance, and obedience to the Will of the Father. It will mean rest in a tomb but with readiness to come out when he calls.