As a way of breaking into the text about Lazarus and his death and resurrection we are going to explore the different emotions and reactions in this story; The disciples, Martha and Mary, Jesus, the Jews and also Lazarus.
It seems to be so often the case that the disciples don’t really understand what is going on. When the message comes to Jesus that Lazarus is sick, he pretty clearly explains to them that the end will not be death. But you can’t help but wonder how many of them thought; ‘we’d better get there quickly!’ But they don’t go quickly and the text indicates that Jesus deliberately waited until Lazarus had died so that he could achieve the goal of this encounter. “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
This is the same goal we’ve heard over the last couple of weeks of Lent in the gospel readings, that on lookers and participants in the narratives might identify Jesus as the Christ or The Anointed one and give glory to God.
I can see why the disciples get confused. First Jesus wants to wait, then suddenly he tells them ‘let’s go to Lazarus because he is asleep.’ Now to be fair this is a common idiom for death, the disciples should have known what he meant. But their first reaction to their impending journey to Judea is not their concern for Lazarus but concern for themselves. They fear death, the fear their own death, they even fear Jesus’ death, as they remind him that last time they were in that area, the Jews tried to stone him!
But Thomas seems to quickly change his mind when they realise Lazarus is actually dead and not just sleeping to regain strength and gives a strange response. One minute the disciples are concerned that being in Judea could lead to their own or Jesus death, the next Thomas proclaims: “let’s go that we might die with him.” It’s as if in one phrase he realises what is going on and is prepared to die with him. We assume the ‘him’ is Lazarus, it could well be Jesus, that Thomas expects to go to Judea and where Lazarus is already dead and by going there Jesus will die and the disciples will follow. But he has obviously jumped the gun, it’s not Lazarus who the disciples will follow into death and certainly not so quickly.
The disciples are confused, and scared, then suddenly ready to go but in the process, they fail to identify Jesus as the Christ, or at least fail to fully comprehend what his identity means.
So the disciples head off with Jesus and seem to just follow along, because they have no further recorded interactions.
Mary and Martha on the other hand have much to say.
Martha is the first to greet Jesus, does that fit with your picture of Martha? Remember Martha is the busy one, getting things done, Mary is the one sitting and listening. It makes sense then that Martha runs out to meet Jesus, maybe she has learnt from their previous encounters that Jesus is priority number one. Or maybe she is in her ‘get things done’ mode and rushes out to meet him, in the hope that he would comfort her, but she doesn’t sound like a woman looking for comfort.
I can just imagine Martha and her meeting and greeting Jesus. How do you picture it, is she gentle and subdued or is she really telling Jesus that he has failed her? Perhaps she made herself as big as possible got up in his face and demanded; ‘Lord if you have been here my brother would not have died.’
And she is correct. Jesus could have healed her brother.
How often do we have that same reaction to God, or others? If you had been here… this terrible thing would not have happened. This is the accusation of a hurting and burdened person. Someone who is angry with God.
But even though Martha is angry with Jesus, his words to her should be a greater comfort; ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ In this story of Lazarus and his sisters and Jesus raising him from the dead, the family and bystanders are getting a glimpse of what is to come. It is like a pointing to Jesus own death and resurrection. And a pointing to their own resurrection, the resurrection of the listeners and participants in the story, Martha, Mary, Thomas, the other disciples, and even the Jews who watch and join in.
And it is a pointing to our resurrection with Christ as did our opening verses in today’s service from Romans
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Just like Lazarus coming out of the grave alive with his body intact, and just as Jesus came out of the grave alive with his body intact, we too will rise with our bodies intact. We will not be just unembodied spirits floating around with God, we will have a body and a spirit, it will be a return to our intended state before the fall.
In Ezekiel we hear of the vision of the dry bones. The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘wind’, ‘Spirit’ and ‘breath’ in that passage is the same word. The wind blows the spirit into the bodies and it becomes breath. To have wind, breath or spirit is to be alive. Just like when God created Adam from the dirt, he breathed into him and he was alive. We still do the same today, when someone has stopped breathing, we breathe into them in an attempt to give them life. As it is in the New Testament, a different language but the words Spirit, wind is the same word. So without God’s spirit we are dead.
But we do have God’s Spirit, he has been poured out on us, blown into us. An internet image depicts this well, in that picture; A person had opened the bible, behind the bible was a glowing face, blowing his spirit into the reader. That is what God’s word does, it brings the Spirit and so brings life. When we hear the word the Spirit comes on us to give us life.
And we know we have the Spirit; we know that we belong to Christ because he has claimed us as his own in our baptism. We can be assured that in baptism his Spirit blew into us, giving us life, taking us through death into new life.
Shall we go back to the emotions of Lazarus’ resurrection…
Martha and Mary experienced anger, disappointment, Jesus failed them. They trust, they know who Jesus is, what he can do, but he didn’t get there in time.
What about Jesus emotion–
Jesus hates death
Jesus hates sin that causes death
Jesus hates the pain that death creates
Jesus hates the fact that even though Lazarus is going to live (even that Lazarus is going to see Jesus die) Jesus hates that Lazarus will die again also.
We know God hates death for he had the Psalmist proclaim; Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15 (ESV)
This story is filled with emotion from Jesus, he is here identified as truly human. He shares in human emotion and pain. The sadness of losing a loved one, the distress of not being with them as they suffered, and the anger He displays because He knows that it is sin that leads to death, the fallen nature of humanity.
Then we have the Jews lurking around, watching the proceedings, wondering what it might mean. Some believing that Jesus is the Son of God, others going off and telling the leaders what Jesus has done. And the reaction of the leaders, who wonder ‘what are we doing’ scared that they might lose their place of power should Jesus actually lead a rebellion, absolutely oblivious to what Jesus knows he will have to do and yet by the power of God still able to prophesy in John 11:50 ‘that it is better that one man should die than the whole nation.’
The main player, the person who has his name on the title of this story, Lazarus, the man who actually dies and is brought back to life, what of his reaction. He has no speaking or acting parts, so how can we know, it would be pure speculation. His death, his reaction to his own death, and new life is of no consequence to John. It is all the other people that show their true colours by their reactions. That is often the way with death, it is the loved ones, those who are left behind that have the biggest emotional struggles, the strongest reactions to death come from the siblings, the spouse, the children or the parents.
That’s why we have Christian funerals, to comfort the living, with the good news that Jesus Christ has overcome death by his death and resurrection. It is not to glorify the person recently deceased, it is to glorify God and point mourners to Jesus the Son of God.
There are a range of reactions to Lazarus’ death and subsequent new life. From anger and disappointment to confusion and trust. But we need to see that Lazarus’ resurrection is not foreign to us. Just like Lazarus we also die in baptism and rise to new life. We could even say Lazarus’ resurrection is like baptism, he dies and then is called out of the grave to new life. We die in baptism, that is our flesh, as Paul describes it, is put to death so that Jesus can call us out of that death (sin) into new life. He calls us out like he called out Lazarus; Come out into new life with him.
Jesus says I am the resurrection and the life; Come out of your death in the flesh into your new life in the Spirit. Amen!