‘Unbind him and let him go…’ Thinking about Lazarus in today’s world.
Sermon for Passion Sunday – Adel Parish Church.
Romans 8: 6 – 11; John 11: 1- 45
It is slightly discomforting that today’s gospel is the raising of Lazarus…but I love the characters of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
Not in the chosen group of twelve disciples…not on the margins of society…not characters exaggerated for the sake of a good story…just ordinary friends of Jesus, perhaps like you and me.
It seems from a previous story, that theirs was a house Jesus went to for rest and companionship…to get away from the crowds. They were, first of all, his friends…only gradually did they come to recognise him as their Lord.
When difficult stuff happens to us – we turn to the friends we trust the most – the ones who will know what to do. So when Lazarus becomes gravely ill, his sisters send for Jesus. He’ll know what to do…more than that…he can do things other people can’t. They trust he’s from God…they trust that if he comes, somehow everything will be ok.
But, it seems, he arrives too late.
Martha rushes out to him, still glad to have him there…but full of grief….and like so many of us when we lose loved ones – filled with ‘if only’.
“If only you’d been here – he wouldn’t have died”.
Mary in her turn says the same. They have enormous faith in Jesus – but for them death is the end. More than that – Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. In Jewish belief his soul has left his body after hovering around for 3 days. In practical terms, his body has begun to rot. The sisters have seen Jesus’ power, but death is surely more powerful still.
Perhaps Martha has a glimmer of hope…”If only you’d been here”, she says, “but even now I know God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
I don’t think she’s expecting a miracle though…even when Jesus says…”your brother will rise again” she understands it as an attempt to comfort her. Her faith already told her that at the end of times there would be a general resurrection.
But here Jesus makes an astonishing claim “I am the resurrection and the life,”…not at the end times – but there and then.
This is a strange story, about so much more than the miraculous bringing to life of a dead man. Loads of people must have died during Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t bring them back to life…sadly today we face the death of loved ones, of members of our community. We’re seeing death on a scale most of us have never experienced.
Frankly, the bringing back to life of one friend of Jesus is not much use to us if that’s all it is. Great for that family – but what do we do with it?
Firstly there is that famous verse…’Jesus wept’. Why? He knows he’s going to bring Lazarus back to life. He seems to be affected by the grief of Martha and Mary, by the suffering of Lazarus. This story isn’t about removing grief…or removing death. But it is perhaps about Jesus working and healing in the midst of grief…Jesus acknowledging the reality of death and of our grief and wanting to share it.
Then, when Jesus orders the gravestone to be moved, there’s Martha insisting, ‘but it’s 4 days since he died – it’s going to smell.’ This reminder that Lazarus is 4 days dead tell us that for the people around him – he is now gone – out of reach.
But Jesus has the stone removed anyhow – and commands, “Lazarus come out!” And Lazarus does. Death has not put him beyond the reach of Jesus. This story doesn’t say there will be no more death…no more grief…but it does give us the promise that when our loved ones die they may be out of our reach for now – but they are still with God.
Finally, there is the strange statement…’The dead man came out.’ I suppose I’d always assumed Lazarus came out alive…but ‘the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth.’
Then Jesus says ‘unbind him and let him go’. Does this say something about the Christian life and what encountering Jesus can do for us now? Before Jesus can bring Lazarus truly to life he needs unbinding from all the things that stop him living life fully…not just the disease that killed him. We don’t know what those were for Lazarus…I guess they’re different for each person. But at the moment fear, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, the ease with which we become self-centered, may well be binding us…restricting our life.
Our Christian faith doesn’t offer us answers to all our questions at this time – but it does offer us a life giving relationship with Jesus. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life” – resurrection and life are found in the person of Jesus.
This is not just the story of one person miraculously given some extra time with his family, this is a promise that Jesus can free us from all sorts of grave clothes that bind us – anxiety, fear, oppression, loneliness, pride, greed…
We’re living through times different to anything we have experienced before. But through prayer, and reminding ourselves of his words and deeds, we have the hope that encountering Jesus brings. We’re having to find new ways to pray and spend time with Jesus – especially if it’s something we’ve done mostly in church. But many of us have more time on our hands…please share anything that’s working for you.
I pray that in the difficult times to come, we are all unbound and let go…into new life with Christ.