Rev. Elizabeth Anderson
John 11: 1-45
“Dead Man Walking”
April 10, 2011
Shut--- up in the tomb, bound, cold, buried, dead--- he laid.
Light all of a sudden began tearing into the darkness of the cave and a voice shouted, “Lazarus! Come out!” Not just any voice- not just words but life- He could hear—ears unstopped, breathing begun. He awakened, he rose, he stood—still bound and wrapped in funeral linen. Groggy and disoriented, but hearing the call—compelled —he walked out.
Lazarus – a dead man walking.
We hear about death -it is in the news. It has been our companion especially in recent months-Egypt, Libya, Syria, a bombing in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Haiti, friends, loved ones… Death stares at us when we read the newspaper, when we drive on our commute listening to the events of the day. We cry out to God, much like Mary and Martha did, “Lord, the one you love is sick. The world is sick. Lord we fear. Lord, we don’t understand. Lord, we need help and healing.”
We know that Jesus loves his friend Lazarus- and we know that Lazarus is ill- we are told this several times. Mary and Martha honestly speak their minds- they send word to Jesus- they reach out. .
We too cry out.
But most days our cries are not centered so much on death.
Most days we are more focused on survival. On getting through…on making ends meet.
We survive, we get through, we stay busy---existing-- but are we living?
We wait as Mary and Martha waited, hoping, wondering- Where is Jesus?
The themes of waiting and God’s timing are woven all throughout the Gospel of John. The cross constantly looming, Jesus always speaking about his time. Upon hearing the news of Lazarus- Jesus stays for two more days and then we read: “and then” ---- Then Jesus says “Let us go back to Judea.”
Jesus, even though away, knows what is happening. Even while not physically present with Lazarus, he knows that he has “fallen asleep.” Jesus is going to GO He is going to AWAKEN him.
When Jesus arrives, we are struck by another theme heavily entwined throughout the story—He comes and there are “many Jews” who had COME to Martha and Mary – they had come to “comfort them.” The Community is active and real and present and here with them.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother wound not have died.” Martha says. If only you had been here? If you only you had answered me? If only…
But Martha doesn’t end with this…she continues, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus tells her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha knows this- Yes—“he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
She has a future hope, a promise, but that doesn’t help her NOW—right now- in this real and raw present moment. She does believe it, it does give some hope, but she can’t touch that or feel it- she can’t see it.
Jesus then reframes her understanding to the NOW- to the present—eternal life- resurrection is not just some distant future—it is now- for it is in him, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Do you Believe this? Jesus asks her.
Martha says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
I am moved by her words.
Her belief is not some obscure, intangible, distant theological doctrine- her belief is in Jesus who is the Christ.
But I am struck--Why does Martha say he is “coming into the world?”
He is here now…. He is in front of her. He has come now- he is with her.
We know that Jesus is, and was, and is to come.
We know he is always seeking us and He is always coming to each of us and calling us to come to him! This too is what Martha knows and proclaims.
This is the constant activity of Christ.
He comes and calls you to come forth.
Martha goes to get Mary who is at the house surrounded by the community who have come to comfort and mourn with her. Mary comes and falls at Jesus’ feet. She weeps and the community has come with her also weeping.
And Jesus asks this crowd, “Where have you laid him?”
They say to him, “Come and See, Lord.”
And here—at this –the sight of all – taking it all in
The community reacts in two ways:
1) Some are moved- “How much he loved Lazarus!”
2) Others are angry, skeptical…He healed others- why couldn’t he have come and saved Lazarus.
Jesus comes to the tomb instructs the community—He says something most unexpected, “Take away the stone.”
What would you think? You’re standing at the tomb—you are weeping. You are sad. You are angry. You had hoped for a miracle and it never came.
I want you to think about who you are in the story.
Everyone is here now- Mary and Martha, the community who have gathered around them, some moved by Jesus, some angered by him, the disciples, Jesus, and a big stone that is over the cave entrance, and there is a dead man inside.
Martha speaks up- “But Lord, he stinks!”
Jesus said, “Did I not tell you if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
“So- they took away the stone.”
The stone is rolled away and Jesus prays, “Father I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus acknowledges that God is present, always hearing, always knowing- always listening for our cries, our words, our needs.
Then Jesus calls out, “Lazarus, Come out!”
Jesus commands- and creates new life.
God is always sending Jesus to us.
His only Son, to come to us and to call us to come and follow him.
“Lazarus Come Out!”
The Dead Man came out----- The Dead man came walking out---
His hands and his feet are bound with strips of cloth and his face is wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Even though he is awakened, Lazarus is still bound by signs and stench of death.
Lazarus has risen, he is resurrected but the community must come and unbind him.
Jesus has freed him from death, but still he needs to be released from its grip.
So -- Who are you? Where are you? What would we do?
Would you still be in the tomb? Would you rise and come out?
Are you one of those who have rolled away the stone?
Are you weeping Mary and Martha? Confronting and yet praising Christ?
Are you loosening the bindings?
Are you on the ground fallen down weeping?
Are you holding your nose? Gawking at this strange event?
Are you the dead man walking?
The community is called to come and be part of this resurrection- Unbind him! Jesus says.
Lazarus is alive, and yet still tangled still in burial clothes. He is living, yet not able to fully live.
Do you know what that is like?
Perhaps not dead----but not fully alive? Stumbling towards life…Surviving, breathing—and yet trapped up bound by old bondage, wrapped in past wreckage, stuck in old sin?
At some point we may be all of these people.
No matter how much we try to bind up the dead places, perfume the smell, or cover our deadness and dryness with stones and tombs—Somewhere, sometime, we are dead men walking- our faith has been lost, we have become weary, we have given up hope, we see only dried up bones, and no new breath of life seems possible.
Why does Martha say Jesus is coming?
Because he never stops coming to us. And He will never cease calling us to come forth.
We stink- we are bound- we hide buried in a tomb.
But still- Jesus calls each of us to come forth.
What tombs do you hide in?
What bindings do you need to be released from?
What stones do we need to roll away?
Who are the dead men walking around?
Lazarus heard the call—the call from Jesus—Jesus who is the life and the resurrection- Jesus is LIFE!
Awakened he came--- ready for a new life and yet still held in the bondage of the old….
Here Christ calls- he commands the community to be part of the redemptive and restorative work of his creation.
They come to the Dead Man Walking and they help release him.
Jesus said, “Unbind Him and Let him go.”
Where now will Lazarus go? What now will he do?
Can he go back to an everyday life when he has experienced new and eternal everlasting life?
What will the community now do?
Some undoubtedly celebrate after they have removed the funeral bindings.
Others flee to town telling the Pharisees and chief priests what had happened.
What about Mary and Martha?
They now understand life, death, and Jesus in a greater way. For Mary will anoint Jesus with perfume, preparing him for the cross.
Much changes now. The cross no longer looms in the distance.
Ironically, Lazarus’ empty tomb is now the entry way to Jesus on the cross crucified.
The chief priest and Pharisees gather, worried about what they will do. They say, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy places and our nation.” The high priest Caiaphas says, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” And Caiaphas did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.”(John 11: 50-53).
Jesus --no longer walked about openly- but goes now to Ephraim and remains there until Passover. He returns to his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus for a meal before Passover and Mary anoints and prepares him for death. Crowds of people will soon shout Hosanna and Crucify in a matter of days.
Lazarus’ life is different now.
He has come forth from death, for death as the Sanhedrin decide to pursue him.
They seek to also put him to death—because so many people are believing in Jesus because of him.
Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus, “Lord, whom you love is ill.”
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus as those around said, “See how he loved him.”
And Jesus loved him and called him forth and created new life rising up in him.
Lazarus also loved Jesus. Lazarus’ love for Christ is a real love with sacrifice.
Unbind him and Let him Go!
To the cross with Christ.
A sacrifice that is willing to go with Christ.
To go with him to the very end.
Having Jesus at our tombs means that we must follow him to his.1
We practice dying when we are living in Christ.
We die to sin, to shame, to prejudices, opinions, stagnant ideas, dying to one old life and then another, ever striving toward new life. [And we] consciously practice rising from whatever tomb we’ve have holed ourselves up in lately. ”2
We practice dying…not because we are afraid of death but because we are called to Come forth into life! To witness to an eternal life that begins NOW. It is real and powerful- for it makes dry bones rattle, become flesh, and breathe, it makes what we think is impossible, what we have buried, come alive, come forth, out of the tomb, out of depths, out from the grave into a life in Christ!
We began our worship today singing, “And Are we Yet Alive?”
I ask us-- Are we?
Are we dead men walking?
Are we existing? Are we yet alive?
Christ has called us to come forth and live in Christ Jesus!
And when we come forth and live—we walk out to this community – a community that is here to unbind each other when we rise.
We will unbind
And we will Go!
We will go to the cross.
As end our worship we sing “Are Ye Able”
Jesus asks us – are you able to be crucified with me? To die to sin and to live in me? No longer a dead man walking?
Let us stand and sing and say – as Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; “ it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me " (Gal. 2:20).
Come Forth and live!
Thanks be to God! Amen!
1 Commentary on Gospel by Meda Stamper
2 Suzanne Guthrie
THE RAISING OF LAZARUS
Duccio Di Buoninsegna
The artist name is listed on the bottom, but I cannot make it out...
"The Resurrection of Lazarus"
Giotto di Bondone (c1267-1337)
Scrovengi Chapel, Padua
I do not know who or where this image is. If you find it and know the artist, please let me know. This is my favorite of the images because it reveals the intimacy of the community who comes to unbind him- you see the people up close.