The Blue Mountains Franciscan Church Sermon preached by Revd. Br Simeon efo (Rob Suttie) on 3 April in Springwood NSW.
Sunday 2nd April 2017: FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT. YR A.
Gospel: John 11: 1-45
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and food with burial bands, and his face wrapped in a cloth. “Untie him and let him go.”
Two Jesuit novices both wanted a cigarette while they prayed. They decided to ask their superior for permission. The first asked but was told no. A little while later he spotted his friend smoking and praying. “Why did the superior allow you to smoke and not me?” he asked. His friend replied, “Because you asked if you could smoke while you prayed, and I asked if I could pray while I smoked!”
In the Name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We enter today’s Gospel reading that Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is on the point of death. His two friends, Mary and Martha, are about to lose their brother. Jesus is fully aware of these things. In fact, he knows more than Lazarus’ nursing sisters. Jesus knows that Lazarus is going to die.
As was the case in John’s account of the healing of the man born blind (last Sunday’s Gospel), the raising of Lazarus is more than just a sign of Jesus’ love and compassion. Each of the seven miracles that John includes in his Gospel (“the Book of Signs,” as this section of John’s Gospel is titled) is dramatised by the evangelist to underscore some dimension of the redemptive nature of Jesus’ work.
Today’s Gospel, the climactic sign in John’s Gospel, is presented in five distinct, self-contained scenes: Jesus receiving the news of Lazarus’ death, the disciples’ protesting Jesus’ return to Judea, Martha’s pleading with Jesus, Jesus’ emotional arrival at the tomb, and the miraculous raising of Lazarus.
The raising of Lazarus is clearly intended by John to demonstrate Jesus’ power over life and death. The raising of Lazarus plays like a rehearsal for the events next week’s liturgies will celebrate.
Jesus doesn’t have to see the person to heal. In John chapter 4, Jesus is in a different town. A Royal Official travels the best part of a day to Cana. Jesus simply says a word, ‘Your son will live’.
And problem solved (John 4:46-54). Jesus is not like a second-rate mobile phone network, always out of range. Distance is no problem. Jesus can heal remotely. And serious disability is no problem. Jesus healed the man lame for 38 years (John 5:1-14) and the man born blind (John 9:1-41).
Yet in John chapter 11, Jesus does nothing. He doesn’t leave immediately. He doesn’t even speak the healing word for afar. He does nothing. He allows the sickness to work death in Lazarus. He allows Martha and Mary to wait in turmoil, to stand at the window and watch for a Jesus who will never arrive in time.
And then Jesus decides that he will make Mary and Martha watch their brother breathe his last. Jesus then allows Martha and Mary to start the grizzly task of preparing their brother’s body for burial. They wash Lazarus’ body, cleanse the filth and body fluids from it, so that it doesn’t keep smelling, anoint it with perfumes and spices to defer the stench, then lay it in the tomb.
By the time Jesus deigns to arrive, the family has been mourning four days. And Jesus has allowed all this to happen.
Mary is exactly right to say to him through the tears, in verse 32: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32 NIV)
I find myself asking the question “Why the Delay?” Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
The question is ‘Why?’ Why does Jesus not act to save all this pain?
Maybe it was because Jesus didn’t really care. Maybe Jesus didn’t really love Lazarus and Mary and Martha. They are just celestial playthings as Jesus heartlessly toys with them. Well, John won’t let us say this. At the very beginning of this account, in verses 5 to 6, John says,
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5-6 NIV)
Moreover, Jesus is deeply moved when he gets to Bethany. Verse 33:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit…
Jesus stands at the tomb and in the shortest verse in the bible, John chapter 11, verse 35 we read, ‘Jesus wept’. And again, in verse 38, we read, Jesus was once more ‘deeply moved’.
So, we may ask: Are all these crocodile tears? No, No, No. Jesus knows what he is doing. Jesus decided it was better for him to go through the pain of grieving, it was better that Mary and Martha went through the pain of grieving, it was better that Lazarus went through the agony of death, so that Jesus could make a point. It is a very important point. It is so important, that Jesus underlined it and emphasised it with his own and Mary and Martha’s grief, and Lazarus’ death.
As Jesus called out to Lazarus to be untied from the wrappings of the dead and to be free to live once again, so we are called to be free from those things that keep us too busy from loving and being loved, and yes… from living.
Resurrection is an attitude, a perspective that finds hope in the hardest times and uncovers life among the ruined, that reveals light in the darkest night. To each one of us belongs Jesus’ work of resurrection at Lazarus’s tomb: to help others free themselves from their tombs of dark hopelessness and the fear and sadness that bind them.
Today,as I end my sermon, I leave with you this challenge. The challenge is to believe what Martha believed. In John chapter 11 verse 27 Martha say:
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (NIV)
Like Martha, put your trust in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Give him your life. Live with him as your King and Lord and Master. Hand over your whole life to him, and throw in your lot with him. Repent and change your thinking about Jesus Christ and about life. Believe that God raised him from the dead as ruler over the universe. And then you will have life in his sweet name, even though you taste the bitterness of death.
Image-Duccio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons