5th Sunday in Lent
April 6, 2014
My kid called me for my birthday and her friend Rachelle was on the speaker phone to shout out “Happy Birthday, Mom!” In the course of conversation, I explained that my Lenten discipline was learning to use Twitter, posting images to go with words of the day with a group of friends. Melissa said that I needed to explain what Lent was for Rachelle. It got to be a little long-I know you’ll be so surprised-but at the end I was explaining that Good Friday we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and meditated on the fact that in Jesus, God knows every kind of suffering that humans can experience and that it shows God’s great love for us that Jesus would do this to show us how much God loves us. There was silence on the other end. Then Melissa said, “Mom, you made Rachelle cry.” Rachelle has only been in church a couple of times in a very complicated life, and church just told her what was wrong with her instead of that God loves sinners. Right now she feels like her life is at its lowest ebb. I feel that maybe this is God’s invitation to her to find a new life. Good mom and pastor that I am, I said, “Mo, you have to take Rachelle to church.”
I tell you this story because I think it’s an illustration of God’s power to invite people into new life, but that it doesn’t happen in isolation. It’s a lot like the story we have before us this morning – not as dramatic, but just as real. Lazarus is part of a deeply connected community, one that suffers from his loss. Even Jesus, who knows what is about to happen, is affected by the deep grief surrounding this loss. Jesus is about to change everyone’s understanding of the power of the God he is, and to reach into the lives of ordinary people to re-create life and hope. This unique and purposeful incarnation of God takes the whole community to new understanding when he calls, “Lazarus, come out.”
“Unbind him and let him go!” is Jesus command to the gathering when Lazarus appears wrapped in the clothes of burial. They have their work to do in this resurrection, too. They will unwrap him with caressing hands, warm and feed him, and wrap him in love.
I am reminded of my invitation back into the life of the church at a time when I felt death and despair all around me. I was embraced and unwrapped, fed and loved into life again. Perhaps that is your story, too. Even if you have been a life-long church-goer, you have experienced the coldness of fear, of loneliness, of doubt, or of empty years in which your faith felt like an exercise rather than being a life-giving fire. This story of Lazarus and his family and friends, and God’s power to bring life in the face of death may be something you can own as well in your experience.
This event was the last straw for the religious authorities who wanted to get rid of him. After the news got out of this resurrection, they began to actively plot Jesus’ capture and death. Next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ joyous entry into Jerusalem and the quick change that happens when he is finally in the hands of the authorities. And then we will be in Holy Week, those days when we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and his horrid death on the cross. Then comes Easter when we recognize the death of death, and our own new life bursting into bloom. You will have the chance to celebrate the new life you have been given in that resurrection, the life that is everlasting because it guarantees that God walks with you in love every moment of your life.
So this morning as we contemplate Lazarus amazing story of new life, I ask you: What is the death from which you have been awakened? Are you helping to unbind someone from death and disaster? What community, what resources, are unbinding you from your grave clothes? What will you do with the new life you have been invited into? Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.