Romans 6:8-11; John 11:1-45
March 26, 2023
- We to live as resurrected people today
One of the coolest tricks I ever saw in school was the day in science class that the teacher brought in liquid hydrogen. Besides being creepy looking with its mist going everywhere, she froze racquetballs and dropped them on the floor for them to shatter into many pieces. The coup de gras, however, was when she froze a goldfish solid. One minute it was swimming around in its fishbowl oblivious as to what was about to happen. The next, the fish was dead by any observable measure. It was no longer demonstrating any signs of life. Then, she put it back in the room temperature water and it thawed out and began swimming and breathing and living, again. I can only imagine that it never knew that for a few seconds it had ceased to live. It wasn’t until we froze Bobby, however, that we truly began to understand the physics of cryogenics and freezing people….
OK, that part I made up that part about Bobby. The goldfish was real, though. As amazing as that was to me, however, that is nothing compared to the story of Lazarus. There was no “he might be frozen” part of this story. John wants you to know without the shadow of a doubt that Lazarus was not just slightly dead or mostly dead. He was completely gone. What to us and to Mary and Martha seemed like cruelty (“If you had only been here sooner, Jesus”) was Jesus way of showing us the biggest lesson possible. Even death does stand a chance in the face of God’s love.
The story of Lazarus in John’s Gospel is the key pivot, the place where the trajectory of the entire story takes an important turn. Up to this point, Jesus has been showing us signs of the Kingdom – healing people and talking to people and restoring people and giving those around something to really talk about. He was showing us powerful lessons and giving us hard teachings. Some of these we have encountered in the previous weeks. This week, life and death are on the line. A healing is not enough. This time God through Jesus will triumph over death. John’s Gospel makes the case again and again that Jesus and God are one – that God the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Here we see that unlike anything we have seen before. After this act in John, the religious leaders decide enough is enough and they plot his death. It was this act of raising Lazarus that crosses the line in their eyes. Too many people are listening to Jesus. Too much is happening around him.
You would think that the folk would be delighted to have someone around who could do such amazing things, even raise people from the dead. Remember Aunt Mabel who choked on that bite of pecan pie a few days ago? “Jesus, help us out over here.” Cousin Tobias was a very rambunctious little guy and got into all kinds of kid trouble until he fell into that hornet’s nest. “Hey Jesus, bring that young, bright spirit back to us.” You would think that someone who could actually do this for the people would be super popular with those who are leading the people. If Jesus were their friend, then they would look good, but you and I both know that it did not work that way, and maybe it could never work that way.
The problem is that we are a culture of death. Ever since the beginning of humanity, long before taxes, the one constant was death. We all come to an end, even good ol’ Methuselah. Who has the courage or stupidity of saying that there is any other way life can end? It has always been this way for everyone. We have figured out our very way of existence around this one basic fact: death meets us all and we have never met anyone who has come back.
This changes our idea of life and how we treat others, especially our enemy. Our idea of relationships changes and who gets what. Our idea of entertainment changes as we revel in the notion of death without actually dying ourselves. Our idea of healthcare changes to simply fight death with everything we have even when it might be more dignified and humane to allow someone to come to an earthly end. Death, the fact that we are mortal and one day we will die, informs everything about our lives in some way. But then Jesus comes along and says maybe not. Even the religious leaders were counting on the way life has always been and was always supposed to be. Their sense of control and power was bent on a world in which death (as far as they knew) was the last word. If you can threaten people with death, and it is the end, then you can stay in power. Magnify that one million times and you have places of war, like in Ukraine.
Mary and Martha opened the door to something different, however. Did you notice that their first century Judaism already has an idea of the resurrection from the dead? This was not an old idea then. Jews previously did not have this idea, and I do not believe we know where and how it came about, but some Jews in Jesus’ day did believe that we all sleep basically after we die, and then, on the last day, Jesus will return, and all the faithful dead will rise from the grave. Jesus is not saying that that is wrong, per se. Jesus says she is right about the resurrection. The challenge is when. Her notion is that resurrection would not be until a long way after she was gone. She would never participate in the resurrection until the end of time. Jesus says no. Resurrection is today. I am resurrection.
It changes everything when the people of God can be resurrection people now. This is the single greatest gift to us as followers of Jesus that we pay little to no attention to. Even today through this message so far, our thoughts jump so quickly and easy to the comfort and security of know that we also believe in a complete and bodily resurrection one day far off in the future. Let’s be honest with ourselves. We do not wake up each day thanking God that we are in the resurrection in this very moment. We may thank God that heaven and eternal life awaits us one day, but today is our day to live this out. Jesus is our resurrection, and he will get with us in 2000 years? No, friends, he is with us today. Jesus cannot help but bring resurrection power. That was the whole point of this story for Lazarus. He is showing us what it means to be connected to him today. If Jesus is with you, his resurrection is working something in you in this very moment.
This is incredibly important as we do live in that world devoted to death, arranged around death, crushing people with death. I am absolutely not trying to say death is evil. Of course not. It is a natural part of life, but we have allowed death to be the ruling factor in our everyday lives. We have accepted death as the operating procedure of this world. We roll over and allow people bent on death to do anything they want in this world. That is the travesty of the Body of Christ today. A Lord who brought resurrection power and life is given a closet in our lives that one day a week we bring out for a peptalk.
So what would a community consumed by resurrection energy look like? I think you might guess. People would not be living in fear. People would not be obsessed with power and control. The idol of money and security would not determine how much we are willing to love. Children would not go to bed afraid or hungry or hurting. Our neighbor would be blessed. We would be blessed – no matter who any of us is. The brokenness in our community, the illness and sickness of a world living the death lie, is beyond healing. We do not need to just try to go back to a different age, a different day when things were better because it was never better for everyone. What we need is a time today when life means something. We need a day when we live Jesus between us. We need a day when we are committed to finding God’s grace between us. We need a day to be resurrected together in the love of God now. This day is actually here if we are willing to see it. To God be the glory. Amen.