The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- April 6, 2014
Lent 5, Year A: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45
This is the fourth in the series of readings we’ve been hearing from the gospel of John this Lent. Next Sunday we’ll read from the gospel of Matthew who will speak about the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday and the Passion of Jesus. And so today, before we step out into another gospel, I want us to hunker down in the gospel of John and gather together in the story of the raising of Lazarus. And as we gather today, I want to invite the other characters who have been a part of this Lenten journey to be here too.
And so I’d ask Nicodemus to come along. Remember him? A few weeks ago he came to Jesus by night and asked some of the questions that were stirring his heart. Now remember that Nicodemus came by night because he had a lot to lose – he was one of the pillars of his community of faith, an authority of religious law and practice, and so it wasn’t safe for him to ask questions of this could-be-Messiah by day. But Nicodemus risked it at night and Jesus received him. And Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again, he gave him the hope of beginning anew, allowing his questions to guide him to a new sort of holy place. “Everyone needs to be born again,” Jesus told him. And Nicodemus left with perhaps even more to think about, but with the hope and strength of a promise that he hadn’t had before.
And I’d invite the Samaritan woman to be here too. We heard about her two weeks ago and if you remember, she was down by the well of her people at mid-day. Like Nicodemus, she was avoiding everyone else, but not because she was a leader; it was because she was an outcast. Coming to the well in the heat of the day was the only way she could get water without also being shamed, and so she took advantage of the high sun.
And that one day when she was at the well, Jesus was there too. And he talked to her even though she was a woman and he was a man, even though she was a Samaritan and he was a Jew, even though he was the Messiah and she had broken religious customs and law over and over again. He received her even though – even though all of it, and he told her everything she had ever done – which was more than the telling of a story, it was the offering of redemption and hope. And Jesus talked to her about living water, about being sustained in eternal sorts of ways by a refreshing, renewing presence of God. And in turn, the woman told her people about this whole encounter. And they came to see Jesus and they invited him to their town. And they followed him too. Maybe the whole town would come and be with us today inside of this story of the raising of Lazarus.
Final invite here – last week we met the blind man. He was begging by the side of the road when Jesus and the disciples were passing by. But instead of just passing by like everyone else did, Jesus saw the blind man – one of the lines that I still think is the most important in the whole story. Jesus saw him, went over to him, and he made mud which the blind man placed over his eyes. And when he washed it off in the pools of Siloam, the man who had been born blind could see.
But as it turned out, that sight led to more than vision, it sparked significant controversy among the religious leaders. First of all Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, second, the man whom he healed was believed to be a sinner, and to top it off, none of it made any sense which meant it was ripe for a fight. Now through it all – while the religious leaders became more and more divided – the blind man just kept speaking his truth. So, here’s the other important line in from that story, “Here’s what I know,” he told them, “I was blind and now I see.” Period.
So the pot had been stirred by the point of the today’s story in extreme sorts of ways. The authorities were extremely anxious and feeling threatened. Jesus was talking to people, and healing people, and expanding the boundaries that had traditionally defined the flock. Jesus was forgiving people, and promising things like new birth, living water, redemption, and sight. And so this week when the encounter happens, the tensions are very high. The disciples didn’t even want Jesus to go back to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus because it was just outside of Jerusalem. And the last time he was there they had practically tried to kill him. And everyone knew that they’d certainly be after him now.
But there was one more promise that Jesus had to make; one more miracle he had to offer so that everyone would have hope and something of God to lean in to forever. And so Jesus waited until the time was right. Then he turned and went back to the home of his friends, to his people, to what would ultimately lead to his own death and new life for all.
And Martha and Mary both met him out on the road, and they both said that if Jesus had been there sooner their brother Lazarus would not have died. But Lazarus had now been dead for four days – which was just long enough in Jewish belief for the people to believe that even the soul had departed from the tomb. And so Lazarus was not just asleep he was dead. And he wasn’t just dead. He was really dead. And as was the custom, the whole community had come to mourn. And even Jesus wept at the scene, because Lazarus was his friend.
But Jesus told them to take him to the tomb. And this is where I want us all to be today –you and me and Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, maybe her whole town, and the man who had been born blind should be here too. They’d even come out from Jerusalem that day because they needed to be there to mourn and some of them came because they heard Jesus was there.
Now some of them came to build their case against him. That happens when the pot gets stirred. Some came because living water wasn’t enough – I understand that too. Some came because they were still blind, or because the questions were still stronger than that promise of new birth. That’s OK. Some people came that day because they had recently been given sight and they wanted to see more.
There are so many different reasons we come. So many different motivations that bring us to this place.
And then when gathered, Jesus told them to roll away the stone. And that’s one of the most important lines in this whole story, because stones are very hard to roll away. First there’s simply the weight of the stone. ‘Roll away the stone,’ Jesus said. But in addition to stones being huge and heavy, there’s the extra weight that we place on them: ‘It will stink,’ Martha said. ‘He’s been in there four days!’ There’s always some resistance, some reason not to move it, isn’t there? But that resistance wasn’t strong enough. ‘Roll away the stone,’ Jesus said. And they did. And then Jesus told Lazarus to come out. And he did. The man who had been dead, really dead came out of the tomb right in front of everyone. And then came the other most important line, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
And I hope the man who had been blind and those who might have still been blind saw it all. And I hope Nicodemus who had so much to lose, got to see that really, given that even new life in the face of death was possible, he was free too. And I hope that the Samaritan woman who had believed at so many points in her life that she had lost it all, was drinking it all in, soaking it all up.
I hope that with Lazarus, they were all being unbound. I hope we are too.
And so, I don’t know which of these stories has spoken to you this Lent. Maybe they all have. The questions, the challenges, the promises are for us too. We all need to be born again, to be met in that place where our deep questions live and to know that with God’s help, we can begin anew. We all need to be met down by the well – to have someone tell us everything we’ve ever done and receive us still. So that we can then share the good news of that love with our people. And we all need new sight, we need to notice one another and those by the side of the road more fully. And then we, like the man who had been born blind, need to stand in the midst of the controversies we know, and offer our simple truths just like he did, “Once I was blind, and now I see.” Sometimes those little proclamations of truth are enough to help things turn.
So outside this tomb today, notice the amazing depth and profound breadth and hope in the stories gathered here, in the gospel and in the pews too. And know that even now, there’s more to come. Unbind one another so that you can hear it all– unbind your hope, your fear, your questions, your ability to forgive and be forgiven. Unbind your blindness, embrace new sight. Be free. And keep listening. There’s even more to come.