Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I believe. . .

Sermon for Lent 5A, preaching on Sunday, April 6, 2014.

    What an odd story!  Lazarus is dying but Jesus seems too busy to go to him.  He comforts His disciples saying, "Don't worry; he is going to die."  Jesus appears unwilling to risk travel to Bethany where His enemies seek His death while Lazarus is still alive... but goes when he has died.  No wonder the disciples are confused. Then, on top of it all, the reason Jesus gives for going: "Lets go wake up Lazarus."
    Lazarus sleeps.  Jesus put it delicately, apparently too delicately because they thought Lazarus was resting comfortably.  We also try to soften death's sting by using euphemisms that refuse to speak death's name.  He has passed.  He is no longer with us.  He is gone.  We can dance around the word "death" but it does not make it any easier to accept.
    Death steals away our lives.  Whether death comes after many years or at life's beginning, it is the great thief who comes to take from us the life our Lord first gave us.  It destroys our hope.  How do we face a future in which we do not know if we will live or die... or our loved ones?  It does not matter how they package, death is not normal or natural or acceptable.
    Death leaves us alone with our wounds looking for an explanation or an excuse.  Like the sisters of Lazarus we too wonder why we suffer so and what might be different if God had intervened.  "If you had been here, he would not have died."
    Worse is the fact that Jesus seems oblivious to us, to our questions and to our pain.  He goes to wake up Lazarus.  He weeps but what kind of tears?  He did not prevent the death of His friend but He could have and then claims this is an occasion for God's glory.  What kind of glory?
    We stand squarely with Mary and Martha wondering why God does not take death away and with the disciples who are confused about Jesus's seeming indifference to death and to our pain of grief.  But grace surprises us.  God is at work even in this death; God is bringing forth life death cannot overcome.  Faith sees this even when our mortal eyes see only pain and death.
    Our Lord Jesus has entered human time wearing our flesh and blood to bear the full weight of our sin and death.  Death will not be undone by using euphemisms to soften its blow nor will it be undone by postponing it a few more days, weeks, months or even years.  Death can only be undone by the One who enters the cold darkness of the grave with the power of His life.  Death can only be undone by the one who speaks its end to death and transforms it into the beginning of new and everlasting life.
    Jesus does this for Lazarus as a way of prefiguring His own death and resurrection.  But unlike Lazarus's death which was all about him, Jesus' death is all about us.  He dies to take away the sting of death and to release its hold over us.  So for us, it is not death to die.  We enter death with His victory in us.  Our bodies sleep only to be awakened to new and everlasting life, to the glorious flesh and blood no one on this side of glory has ever known before.
    Jesus said to His disciples: "Lets go wake up Lazarus."  Little did they know He was going to do just that.  We wish it were just that easy – that we could call to the grave to cough up our dead and they would walk among us again.  Or is it just that easy?  We have the Word of life in us by baptism.  We have already passed with Christ from death to life.  We came up out of those baptismal waters believing in Christ who died that we might live.  It is just that simple.  Christ is our life.
    Jesus also prefigures the kind of life we look forward to.  This is no spiritualized life of floating souls but a real life of glorified flesh and blood.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want an eternity of a vague spiritualized definition of life.  I want more.  This more is what Lazarus prefigures and Jesus makes possible.  We look forward to the resurrection of the body and to the kind of eternal life foreshadowed in Jesus own resurrection appearances.  This is no small part of the faith.  St. Paul says that either Jesus rose bodily as the first born of all who will rise in Him or there is nothing here for you, no reason to go to church, and not a drab of hope past your dying breath.  We refuse to settle for comfort and we expect nothing less than the full promise of Christ, prefigured in Lazarus’ walking out from the grave and foreshadowed in our Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
    We cannot prevent death but we speak the Word of Christ to the dying and the dying live.  We do not yet see it with these eyes but we know it by faith.  We see into the future in Christ and know that death cannot hold us.  We belong to Him.  All those who die in Christ live with Him now and wait with us for the day when He will come to seal the victory with glorious bodies, the resurrection of the flesh, and the death of death.  Now comes the hard part.  Do you believe this?  Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?  It is no accident that what follows this sermon is the creed, the place where we rise to stand with Martha, Mary, and all the faithful who have gone before us.  Here we add our voice to theirs and speak our hope before the world.  Here we pass on the legacy of this living hope to the church which is to come.  And it all starts with the words, “I believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ His Son, in the Holy Spirit. . . and in the resurrection of the body. . . Then let the believing confess.  Amen.

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