The Raising of Lazarus
A Foretaste of Jesus’ Resurrection
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on November 4, 2012, All Saints Sunday. The sermon is John 11:32-44.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today’s gospel story about the raising of Lazarus is a good one for All Saints Sunday. It permits us to look at death from a Christian perspective and it reminds us that Jesus has the power to raise us to new life.
Let’s put the story of the raising of Lazarus in context. The gospel writer John places this miracle account just before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. The significance is this: this is a foretelling of what will happen to Jesus himself (his death and resurrection), and, this will be the last straw for the Jewish leaders. These leaders understand that if the people believe that he has the power to not just heal sick people but bring them back to life, people will follow him and not them, and that will lead to all sorts of problems. So the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin, determines a plot to do away with Jesus. That is chapter 12 of John’s Gospel.
But let’s back up to chapter 11 to see what happened to Lazarus. Lazarus is deathly ill and his family sends word to Jesus to come as quickly as possible in order to heal Lazarus. Jesus, however is a full day’s walk away from Bethany where Lazarus lives with his sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus does something out of the ordinary. He purposely delays going to Bethany two full days. John tells us that Jesus knows that Lazarus has already died and Jesus also knows that this will be his time to raise Lazarus from the dead in front of a host of witnesses and set the stage for his own death.
There are lots of tears in this story. When Jesus does finally arrive at Bethany, he is greeted by Mary who tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She is crying. So are the friends who had gathered for the burial. So are the professional mourners that were always hired for Jewish funerals. Lazarus’ body is already in the tomb, but the custom was that this mourning and weeping went on for a full week. And John tells us something about Jesus. “Jesus began to weep.” In some translations it says simply, “Jesus wept.”
John tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed” and went to the tomb. He looked upward and prayed, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And John tells us: “the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to then, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
And so we learn something about Jesus. He is painfully aware of his own impending death, he sees and feels the utter grief in his friends Martha and Mary, and he knows that God has sent him to earth for a purpose, and he trusts that God’s plan for resurrection is assured. So, with the full authority of heaven, he is bold to say, “Lazarus, come out!”
On this All Saints Day 2012, we too believe in the miracle of resurrection and new life. We believe that already the saints who have gone before us have heard the cry of Jesus, “Come out” and they have been greeted in heaven. In the narthex new leaves have been added to the Tree of Life since last All Saints Sunday. The names of Resurrection members who have died are on those leaves. Today we remember these saints now in heaven: Iris Yohe, Lydia Kaufman, and Ruby Funkhouser.
Today we Christians understand how you can have tears and feel joy at the same time. Our tears are real because of the pain of separation we feel between this life and the next. Our joy is real because we believe that death is the door to eternal life. And we look forward to being reunited with those we love in heaven. They are secure and happy. We are the ones who have to wait.
On this day, we the Saints Militant, still on earth, salute our Saints Triumphant, in heaven.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the promise and hope of heaven. Amen!