Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, Jesus went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as the Twin) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”
When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”John 11:1-44
Good morning, Friends!
Today’s gospel story begins with one of Jesus’ friends, a man called Lazarus. He lived in a village just outside Jerusalem, a place called Bethany. Lazarus lived with his two sisters, Mary and Martha.
Mary was the dreamer in the family. When she met Jesus, she just wanted to sit there next to him at his feet and listen to every word he said.
Martha, the other sister, was the practical one. Martha was always busy. Jesus helped her to see that yes, things must get done. But sometimes it’s more important, said Jesus, just to spend some quiet time with God. Jesus loved both Mary and Martha. But sometimes Martha’s busyness got in the way of what she really needed to do.
Anyway, Lazarus was their brother. And Lazarus was ill. He was sick. It was one of those terrifying and unexpected illnesses. One day he was alive and well, and two days later he was dead.
They had sent for Jesus, but he came too late. When Jesus finally came to Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead four days.
Mary and Martha were at their home, grieving and weeping, together with many of their friends. And when Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went and met Jesus, while Mary was still in the house.
And Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here in time, my brother would not have died!” What a reproach that was! How that must have hurt Jesus! But then Martha said, “Lord, even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give to you.”
And Jesus looked at Martha and said, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha said, “I know that he will rise again, at the resurrection, on the last day.”
But then Jesus looked at her and said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live; and whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die…”
I don’t know how many times I have repeated those words. Usually I say them when I’m standing by the side of a grave, when someone I know has died. And it’s important that we say them there, because we need to have faith when we face the death of people we love.
When a person dies, we need to know that it’s not all over. We need to know that the love of God, which was there from the very beginning for us, that love doesn’t abandon us. It’s still there. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live; and whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die…”
Those words were first said just before Easter. The story of Lazarus is an Easter story. It’s the last thing Jesus did, before he entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
We usually think that Easter is a great drama. It’s an enormous business. Jesus dies to save the whole world. Everything focuses on this great moment.
But Easter is also a personal drama. It has a personal focus as well. In one of the gospels, it was while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, that people stopped him along the road and asked him to bless their children.
Jesus’ friends thought that he would be too preoccupied with all of these high and mighty matters, to be concerned about a bunch of babies and little kids. But as you all know, Jesus got upset at his friends when they tried to shoo the little kids away. And he called back the children, and took them in his arms, and blessed them, and then went on his way.
In the same way, Jesus might have been too busy, he might have been too preoccupied with what he knew was coming, to stop and visit the house of Mary and Martha in Bethany.
But Jesus cared about individuals. One person standing in the middle of a crowd mattered to him. One sick friend. One stricken family. One prayer.
When Jesus had spoken to Martha, she went back into the house, and she called her sister Mary. And when Mary came, she, too said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died…”
And Jesus saw her weeping, and all the people with her, her family and her friends. And Jesus was deeply moved himself. The shortest and the most expressive verse in the Bible is found right here: “Jesus wept…”
He cared for their pain, just as he cares for the pain of each and every person in this world. Each one of us matters just as much to God. That’s why we can ask Jesus for help.
And then they came together to the place where Lazarus was buried. It was a cave, and a stone was laid over the mouth of the cave. And Jesus commanded, “Take away the stone!”
This is where the story starts getting hard to believe. I think that we can believe in God’s compassion. Most of us can believe that God loves us. We can even believe that God hurts when we are hurt, that God is right there beside us in all of our pain.
But I don’t think that most of us are really ready for when Jesus says, “Take away the stone…”
Martha, who was always the practical one, said, “Lord, you really don’t want to do that. We love our brother, and we trust you, but Lord, he’s been dead for four days now!” We would all have said the same.
And Jesus said, “Didn’t I tell you, that if you would only trust me, that you would see the glory of God?” And so they took away the stone.
And Jesus prayed for a moment, and thanked God for bringing them all there. And then he called out in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!”
And the man who had been dead came out, his hands and feet wrapped in the grave clothes, and his face still covered with a cloth. And Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go…”
I don’t know what you make of that story. I don’t know if you believe it, or not.
According to John, it happened just before Easter. So, this story is just as much a part of Easter week, as Palm Sunday, and the Last Supper, and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and all the rest of those things we know so well.
Jesus’ raising of Lazarus — Jesus’ giving Lazarus back his life — Jesus’ calling Lazarus out of the grave, out of the very place of death — is a part of Easter.
In some ways, it always feels to me as though Lazarus, in this morning’s story, is every one of us. What happened to Lazarus, happens to us all; we all die. There are no exceptions.
But it also says, and it’s especially important to hear this before Easter, what happened to Lazarus, can happen to every one of us: we can live again. Death is not the last word.
The first word, that God spoke at the very beginning of everything, is life, and love, and light. God didn’t just say that once, and then quit. God still speaks that word today. And God goes on speaking. And what God says about life, is more powerful than any other force in the entire world.
Just remember that God’s love is an individual business. Each one of us, whether we live or die, matters to God. The promise Jesus made that came true for Lazarus, can come true for you. What happened for Jesus, on Easter morning, has been promised to everyone who believes.