Meditation – Lent 1 – February 18, 2018
1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,£ “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus£ was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin,£ said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus£ had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles£ away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.£ Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,£ the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
We are planning on doing something different during this season of Lent. We will not be following the Revised Common Lectionary throughout Lent, but rather we will be following along with the Narrative Lectionary for the entire season, beginning on last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, right through to Easter Sunday. The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church. Each year of this lectionary, when you come to the Gospel, will read through, in order, one of the 4 Gospels. This year the lectionary focuses on the Gospel of John. So for the next 6 weeks we will follow John as he relates the story of the entry into Jerusalem, the eating in the upper room, the betrayal, the trial, conviction, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. So, in some ways, this will be for us a 6 week walk through Holy Week.
We begin this first Sunday with the story of Lazarus. So many of us have heard this story of Lazarus, and although many of us think that we know this story, I still believe that there are many different things that we can pull out of this story. So I am going to begin by speaking to some of these themes and I hope that I will pull them together at the end. So, we have this story where Jesus is out doing what Jesus does – he is teaching, healing, walking around with the crowds – when he gets word that Lazarus is ill. Now we remember the story of Mary and Martha. You know, the two sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home and Martha served Jesus from the kitchen while Mary anointed Jesus feet with perfume, using her hair. So this is the first interesting thing about this story, you see there is word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus is ill, and it comes from the one who, in many ways, foreshadowed Jesus’ death by anointed him with perfume, just as they do when they prepare a body for burial. So we begin with this news that Lazarus is sick, and Jesus makes a decision to stay where he is for another two days, which leads to many questions around why and what did Jesus know? Then Jesus speaks of returning to Judea where, as the disciples remind Jesus, he was almost stoned. So, Jesus is willing to go to a place of danger to see his friend whom he tells his followers is “sleeping” which is explicitly stated in our reading means that Lazarus is dead, because as Jesus’ disciples say, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” So it really appears that Jesus already knows that Lazarus has died and he is willing to enter into a dangerous place in order to go and see his friend. As the story progresses we find out the Lazarus has indeed died and this fact bring Jesus to tears. Then, as the story goes, Jesus calls out to Lazarus and he emerges from the tomb, emerges from death and wrapped in cloth.
So how might we look at this reading today, especially given that it is the first Sunday in Lent? What might this be telling us today? We have talked a whole lot about following Jesus and what that might look like and how we might do that in our world today. This Lent we are challenged to look at this but, not only how do we follow, but also how do we fall short of this time and again.
One of the other themes that we have come up against in the last little while is the reality of the world in which we live. We live in a world that is confusing and in many ways convoluted. The world seems to be changing at an ever increasing pace and many of us can feel like we are barely keeping up. Add into this the confusing nature of what happens in the world and all of the differing opinions and thoughts that are put forward, what do we do? I want to raise up an example of what I see as one of these confusing times in our world. We all know that that the Super Bowl was only a couple of weeks ago and I think that there are just as many people who tune in to watch the game as those who tune in to watch the commercials and I will be honest there have been some great commercials that come to air during the game. But one of these commercials this year is, for me, the epitome of confusion. In case you missed it–they did what many advertisers do. They paired lovely images with beautiful, inspiring words. In this case, they showed scenes of everyday life, beautiful, regular people stuff: working and having babies and wrangling the herd and living in community. In the background, we heard a familiar, resounding voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the message: we are all built to serve.
That’s lovely and all. Until you put together the sounds and the images and realize they’ve lifted parts of his famous “Drum Major” speech to try and sell you a truck. They are literally using his words, which were spoken for human rights and dignity, to “serve” their own product line. Words that were meant to inspire a nation to become more just, to look at themselves in the face of racial injustice, and they co-opted it to sell a vehicle. I just don’t understand – how are these two concepts even remotely compatible? But in many ways we have become numb to these types of things, we see this so often, these messages that don’t really make sense and yet we just accept them as a part of everyday life, as the way the world is and continue on the way we always have been.
This is where I would like to go back to the reading from John this morning. This reading where Lazarus dies and is brought back, and finally I would like to restate the last line from the reading today, “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”” Unbind him and let him go. So Lazarus dies, is brought back in Christ and then unbound from where he was before.
What do we need to die to in our lives today?
What thoughts and ideas do we need to be able to let go of so that we might be born again, born anew in Christ and be unbound to live in a new way?
Do we need to die to our deep reliance on commercialism, those ideas that tell us that it doesn’t really matter that they used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to sell a truck, because it is a new truck, and what a nice truck?
Do we need to die to our settler mentality that has fostered an institutional racism in this country that still, to this day fosters outright racism against an entire culture?
Do we need to die to our sense of anyone who is different, who doesn’t act like us or look like us, is to be feared?
Do we need to die to our society’s need to marginalize complete groups of people because of their culture, their ethnicity, who they love, or how they understand themselves in the world?
Do we need to die to our need to hold onto grudges, to not let go and forgive?
Do we need to die to our anger and frustration when things don’t go exactly as we had hoped?
And if we can die to these ways of being, what does that mean?
I believe that we are called to follow Jesus, truly follow Jesus, and that means all the way to the cross. But as we have learned, as we know in the story, the cross is not the end, it is not the final answer but rather it is only the beginning. If we have the courage to enter into the final place with Christ, if we can die to each of these things in our lives, we might just find that we are born resurrected anew in Christ and unbound form those notions that keep the world where it is today, so that as we are unbound we come to be more fully engaged as Christ in the world.
We are on a journey to the cross. But the scandal of the cross is not that Christ died, but that humanity thought that greed, power, hatred, and marginalization would actually win. But in reality it was love that overcame all. So will you be willing this Lent to follow Jesus to the cross, will you willing to die to all those things in you that have stopped you from fully living into being Christ in the world? Will you be resurrected and unbound in Christ? Amen.