John 11:1-45 • March 31, 2020
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the risen Christ. Amen.
My guess is that you’ve heard the gospel reading for today before. You know a lot, or at least a little, about this story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.
Lazarus is Mary and Martha’s brother. They are close friends of Jesus from the town of Bethany. They sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick. One would guess that they hoped Jesus would immediately drop what he was doing and head to Bethany to be with the family. After all, isn’t that what you and I would do for a close friend in need? But for two days, Jesus simply stays in the place he was. It wasn’t God’s time yet seems to be his rational.
Lazarus ends up dying by the time Jesus arrives. Mary and Martha seem to be a little perplexed as to why Jesus took so long to get there. If he had really cared about them and made it in time, maybe Lazarus wouldn’t have died. It wasn’t God’s time yet.
Fast forward to the end of the story, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb and asks for the stone to be rolled away. It’s been several days since his death, surely opening the tomb wouldn’t have been a pleasant smell. Jesus cries out “Lazarus, come out!” And out of the tomb of death walks a man fully alive, still wrapped in the burial cloth of death. Now, it was God’s time.
And here’s the even more amazing part of this story – in order for God’s glory to be fully revealed through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus tells the community who has just witnessed this miracle to unbind Lazarus and let him go. The community frees Lazarus from the bondage of death.
For children of God, hope always overcomes despair. Hope always overcomes fear. Hope always overcomes death. As followers of Jesus, we know that our Lenten journey is going to take us to Jesus on the cross of Good Friday. We know that Jesus will lie in a tomb for a few days. We also know and say that we believe, that Jesus didn’t stay on the cross, he didn’t stay in the tomb. In God’s time, Jesus rose from the dead and conquered any death that we will ever face. Our hope, in the God of all creation, is what unbinds us and sets us free.
What does this look like for you and me as brothers and sisters in a faith community called Good Shepherd Lutheran Church? What does all of this mean? What can God possibly be saying to us today through an ancient story from the gospel of Saint John about Jesus and his friends in Bethany? Especially as we continue to try and live in these days of COVID-19. A time when not being able to be together physically for worship is becoming the new normal. A time filled with moments that feel like we are trapped in a tomb of death and have no idea when the stone will be rolled away.
When will God’s time be in order for us to unbind each other and go forward with a life that makes more sense than the one we are living on the last Sunday of March 2020?
My dear friend and colleague, Pastor Taryn Montgomery offers a picture of what this might look like. Many of you might remember Pastor Taryn. She was a guest preacher a few years ago during a stewardship sermon series. She has an incredibly talented videographer at her church in Minnesota. And even though this video was produced for her congregation, I asked her if I could share it with all of you too. Because it speaks so directly to how you and I are the church in this time of COVID-19. How God is calling us to unbind one another with the hope that only God can provide.
Take a look…
In 1527, Germany was under siege from the bubonic plague. A fellow pastor asked Martin Luther how he was handling the situation. Luther’s response in one of the reasons why I feel blessed to be a Lutheran Christian some 500 years later.
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.
If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.
If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” [Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43, pg. 132]
We might not be living in the same time as the black plague of the middle ages, but we are definitely living in a unique time that none of us has ever experienced before. I’m offering today’s message from the Hillside Park shelter where we hold Worship in the Park each summer. It is one of the great ways Good Shepherd is church to our community during the year.
We are still the church brothers and sisters in Christ. You and I are still being called out to be the church. And I can think of no other time in the history of any of our lives when that is more important that right now. Be the church, because the world needs to see Jesus right now.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Those aren’t words for an ancient time. They are words for you today. For me today. And for every child of God who is struggling to feel alive during this time or any other time in their life along this journey of faith.
Stay well brothers and sisters. And until we are able to worship alongside one another in person again, be the church. May God continue to bless you. And may you feel God’s presence beside you, embracing you in love as only Christ Jesus can do. Amen.