Each story we've read during Lent has been a turning point. A story that, if it weren't for Jesus, would never have happened.
The first Sunday in Lent we read about Jesus in the wilderness. It reminds readers of their own ancestors' time in exile. There Jesus was tempted but prevailed and came out of the desert fortified. After being strengthened the first unexpected thing happened. A leader in the Jewish community, Nicodemus, came to Jesus. At night, because he didn't want to be discovered. He's not supposed to be there.
Second, Jesus spoke to the woman at the well. Jesus deliberately crosses into Samaria where it could be unsafe, and talks to a woman which he's not supposed to do, and Samarians come to believe who Jesus is, through her. Everyone was startled in that story. It wasn't supposed to happen.
Third, and even more impossible, Jesus met a known blind beggar and reversed biology by restoring the man's sight. Jesus crossed from the unexpected, to the startling, to the impossible in the first three stories. Restoring the man's sight was not supposed to happen.
Ever since Jesus was a boy teaching the elders in the temple, and overturning the money tables, he has been “in your face” about upending the status quo. The authorities have always had their eyes on him. They had their eyes on him before he was born. After today's shocking reversal of death, the scribes and Pharisees have had enough, and the Pharisee's plans that lead to Jesus' death on a cross are put in place.
Many of the stories in the gospel of John do not appear in other gospel stories. That's because the author of this gospel didn't use the same sources as the other gospel writers did. This story of Lazarus doesn't appear anywhere else in our Bible. Another thing that happens in the gospel of John, is that the stories are longer. This gospel writer, as I've mentioned, emphasizes the relationship that Jesus makes with anyone who he interacts with. In order to make that apparent, the stories we read here include a setting, an event, and follow-up, which takes longer to illustrate.
For this gospel writer the follow-up is important. Without the follow-up, we may see a miracle, and a promise is made, but we don't see the fulfillment of the promise. Making a promise and then keeping it, are key to any relationship. The reading today ends with a 4 day dead man, getting up and walking out of the tomb. The follow-up comes in the next section when Lazarus is included among those who were with Jesus at a meal.
You can't be a little bit dead. Lazarus was 4 days dead. Jesus didn't come along just in time, and prevent destruction. He even said earlier, “I'm glad for your sake, that I was not there.” He reversed destruction. Lazarus didn't come back with a limp, or sick, or on the verge of death. He came back whole and healthy, to the same life that he left behind.
Both of our texts today talk about the raw reality of death and of life. Ezekiel talks about the skin and sinews and flesh and breath. There's nothing vague about that. The gospel reading talks about the stench of four days dead. Both stories fill all of our senses with the experience of being human. The sound of dry bones rattling. The smell of a body decaying. The sight of the bones dancing and jumping while they are built into humans. The touch of Mary and Martha unwrapping the bindings from Lazarus. The only thing missing is taste. In both stories, the word of the Lord is the force that calls life out of death. In both stories, what was dead becomes alive again.
One thing we all need right now is a promise of life. In the last few weeks we have stripped ourselves of what was once necessary and are left with what is essential. I would argue that much of what we have been asked to leave behind as we shelter at home is essential. If we shelter at home we leave behind real connection to others; a sense of collegiality with others in our professions and work lives; the sense of purpose that comes with having a place to go, not just a chair at home to sit in; the mental stimulus of problem solving, helping, enjoying a shared sense of place; we leave behind the tactile world of fabric, paints, musical instruments, dirt, animals, casual human touch; we leave behind the comfort of routines, of being somewhere where we know what to do, of getting daily feedback and encouragement. In short, we leave behind so much of being human when we shelter in place.
What have you left behind as your life has changed in the last three weeks?
Where do you need life right now today?
Where Do You Need Life?
Reverend Debra McGuire
March 29, 2020