5th Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2017
John 11: 1-45 You can click on this link to read the story in Oremus Bible Browser.
When were you raised to new life after what felt to you like death?
When did you have to say to Jesus, “If you had been here…..?
When did your community come to help you out of your grave clothes and hold you up as you learned to live again?
When I looked for a story to connect this amazing narrative with our own lives, I couldn’t choose just one. There have been so many times in my life when I thought I wouldn’t survive. Life crashes around you in so many unexpected ways. The mistakes and bad choices you make can do so much damage that you never really recover. The lies you tell yourself, and the ignorance you choose to live with can wound others in ways that make it hard to forgive yourself. And yet, God is able to dig down deep into our lives and raise us up to new life again and again. Our wounds may never go away completely, our addictions and lies and ugly choices may taunt us forever. But Jesus always gives life for death, even here in our earthly existence. And in spite of all that is death-dealing in us and around us, God’s love is always stronger than death.
It is easy to imagine these stories from John’s Gospel being told to a crowd just like us in the days before these narratives were written down for future generations to treasure them. They have all the drama of our own lives, broken-hearted sisters, fearful friends and the dangers of standing up against the people who can really hurt you, dazed survivors who need a community to unlock their future.
This story is actually at the very center of the Gospel of John, right smack in the middle of the 21 chapters. And the very central verse in this story is Martha’s confession: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” This is the heart of John’s message to the community for which he writes and for us. In chapter 20, the Evangelist explains: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” All the stories, all the testimony, all the signs that Jesus is the living power of God among humans, are all there to bring us to believe in him, and to show us what living the life of God’s people looks like.
The story of this event foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection, and as much as it should convince everyone that he is truly the Messiah, it is a dividing point in his ministry. From this moment on, the authorities are actively looking for a way to get rid of him, and Jesus turns away from his most public ministry with signs and wonders toward teaching his disciples. Next week we have the Passion story from Matthew, and Holy Week comes next. We will walk with Jesus through the darkest dangers of calling out society’s injustices and inequities. Maybe we will remember how easy it is to be comfortable in a society built around our preferences and our experiences. We will be reminded again that the way to life always includes death, but that God who walks with us, has overcome the death we fear and brought us over to life forever. Amen.Th