This Sunday, we focus on a major event from Jesus’ life that occurred just before Palm Sunday. Next week, we will celebrate Palm Sunday. A few days before Palm Sunday, Jesus travelled to Bethany and restored Lazarus to life. This event became well-knowing in Jerusalem, which was located only a few miles away from Bethany. For the people who wanted to get rid of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus was almost too much for them to take….the story we read today directly led to the events of Holy Week. Hear this touching story as we read it in its entirety from the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses one through forty-five:
Proclamation of the Scripture John 11:1-45
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)
So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,
and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.
It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
1After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”
Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,
and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
1On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,
and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”
When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
“Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Message Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” These words remind us that a time will come when our time of mourning will cease….we will eventually experience New Life in Jesus Christ.
All of us are mourning, mourning most of the time. We miss loved ones who have transitioned from this world to the next. We mourn our youth. We mourn our childhoods. We mourn the time of our lives when things felt safe and predictable. We mourn our health and our former flexibility and a time of our life that felt more carefree. Each of us is mourning something.
With so many things that burden us, with so many reasons to mourn, we may wonder why Jesus calls those who mourn blessed.
The story of Lazarus found in John Chapter 11 is a story for those who mourn. Many of us have stories of unanticipated grief – sudden losses that come out of the blue. We all dread possible middle of the night phone calls or knocks at the door. We all dread conversations with doctors that don’t go a direction we expect at all. We will dread summons to the HR department or principal’s office. Far too many of us have been knocked down with grief, have been devastated by hearing the words we least want to hear.
Mary and Martha were living the agony that follows a sudden loss. They were dealing with the shock and agony that we experience immediately after the death of a loved one. They were in the pit of grief.
Jesus knew Lazarus was facing a grievous illness. And, Jesus also knew that a group of religious leaders in Jerusalem wanted to arrest him as soon as he was in their clutches. Jesus realized that if he travelled to Bethany, he would probably be arrested and put to death. Yet, Lazarus was critically ill and Jesus could help. And, then, …. Lazarus was dead and Jesus could help. So, Jesus was in a very tough bind – should he go and help Lazarus and then be arrested and put to death himself? Or should he stay away from Jerusalem and hope religious leaders would eventually back off?
Even though he faced his own death, Jesus chose to travel to Bethany….Jesus chose to help his friend.
Jesus knew that suffering is part of being human. As much as we try, we can’t prevent it. Jesus knew he couldn’t save his friends or himself from pain, sickness, or death. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Jesus understands our pain, our tears, our broken plans for the future. Jesus words and work led to the creation of the church so that we can find in these walls a place for solace and a place we are comforted by others who have lived through their own times of trial and mourning. Through his own suffering and death on the cross, Jesus defeated the sting of death on earth. In Jesus, we find comfort, we find rest, and we find new life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.