Fifth Sunday of Lent April 2, 2017
Ezekiel 37, 12-14 + Psalm 130 + Romans 8, 8-11 + John 11, 1-45
St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
It seems to me that there are three points of focus in this story we know so well: Jesus, Lazarus, and the two sisters. Each of these characters are at a significant point in their lives, and how they respond reveals something of grace to us as we are led into the Holy Week to come.
Harassed and threatened by the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus has gone out of the territory near Jerusalem to a safer place where he is welcomed and respected. There he can continue his ministry without threat or danger, avoiding the spies who are always trying to trip him up. With the news that Lazarus is sick, he must decide if he should take the risk of going back to Bethany just outside of Jerusalem where his enemies are waiting. I do not believe that he waited two days to make up his mind. I do believe that in waiting until Lazarus was dead he could better reveal the glory and power of God, preparing his disciples to accept, understand, and believe in his own resurrection from the dead. He had already cured many sick people, but calling someone back to life after they had been dead for four days would be something else when it comes to calling people to faith. How long he waits is not really important. What matters is that he went risking his own life for someone he loved. As it turns out, by going to Bethany and raising Lazarus, it is the last straw for his enemies. Now they really go after him, and they don’t have far to go.
Laying in that tomb, Lazarus was waiting. Bound hand and foot, he was helpless, and in the darkness of that tomb, there was nothing to do but wait, and he waits alone. Finally, he hears the call: “Lazarus, come out.” It is a familiar voice that calls, and suddenly he is no longer alone cut off from others and in the dark. Once more the one who has healed and restored whatever is broken calls him back into his family and their friends. Then there is another command: “Unbind him and let him go free.” With that, everything that had restrained him in the past and kept him from real freedom was undone: undone by his friends. When I read those words, there comes to mind a command given to Peter and the Apostles in Matthew’s Gospel: “Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What Jesus commands is forgiveness, and that forgiveness gives us the freedom to really come to life. Lazarus who was bound and waiting for the Lord and forgiveness is free and restored to life.
The two sisters prayed and turned to Jesus for help. They wanted their brother to be healed and his death avoided. Their prayers were not answered. Instead of doing what too many would do when that happens, they did not turn away from Jesus or lose faith and give up hope. Instead, they reaffirmed their love for him and reaffirmed their faith. What they received was not what they expected. It was even better, better than they could ever have imagined. Had they turned away from him for not doing what they wanted when they wanted it, there would be no story to tell and no hope for us at the threshold of Holy Week.
My friends, let us be open to the Lord, Lazarus, and his sisters today so that they may speak to us again about courage in the face of danger, about waiting and forgiveness, and about how to respond when prayerful requests seem to have failed. In two weeks, we will proclaim once again the Good News of the resurrection. In that proclamation, there are no bindings on the one who rises as there are with Lazarus. Once and for all, all that holds us bound and keeps us from being free will be left behind neatly folded up and finished. There is a message in this detail, and that message today is our hope and the cause of our joyful faith.