Originally preached by Alex on November 1, 2015
Sermon based on John 11:32-44
I wonder a lot about lazarus…and what he thought of all of the goings on surrounding his death. But mostly I wonder, did he want to come back to life? What was it like for him to have Jesus interrupt his death, his peace, his solitude, and bring him back into the daylight, into his community, into life?
Because ultimately Lazarus will have to die once again. And so he seems like the unlucky participant in an object lesson from Jesus, that he has the ability to do miracles, and bring dead people back to life. Jesus responds to Mary’s plea: if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” by bringing him back to life. But is that what Lazarus wanted? He died of an illness of some kind….did that come back with him?
It’s pretty clear that this isn’t a story of resurrection—but of resuscitation. In Resurrection, as we see in John’s gospel with jesus…in resurrection, we become unrecognizable to the people we love. Lazarus comes out looking just like Lazarus did before death. Maybe a little groggy, but still the same guy, and everyone recognized him. He wasn’t brought to new life…he was brought back to life. And he’d have to die again. Did he want this? Is it what he would have wanted? It’s a question we ask so many times in our world when it comes to medical care for someone who is unresponsive….when we get tasked with making decisions about other people’s life, their death, their wellbeing…and in this story Jesus gets put in that role. And he chooses life agains for Lazarus, rather than death. Is it what he would have wanted?
Is it what we would want? Really?
Do we want to be brought back to life again and again and again? Because I think even when we say we do, it’s easier to just stay in the tombs we’ve created for ourselves than think about what it would be like to be brought back into daylight, where people will see our grave clothes and smell that we’ve been in death for too long. Because coming out of the tomb means we have to admit that parts of us have died.
Do we want to be made alive again? Or do we prefer the tombs of netflix binges of shows we’ve watched too many times to count. Or the bondage of debt because we admitting we need help from our social services seems like failure. Or the tomb of depression that feels so good to sit in even as we long to have a crack in the gravestone. Do we want to be made alive again? Or do we prefer the deathly darkness of running away from ourselves and our problems? Or the dustiness of the tombs of food or meaningless sex or clothes or popularity or whatever else we’re addicted to that makes us feel good but takes life from us rather than giving it to us? Or the other tombs we create and want to curl up in and stay dead in. What are those tombs for you?
Do we prefer the tomb?
The thing is…it doesn’t matter what we prefer. IT doesn’t matter because God prefers life to death. God prefers life and like Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, God too weeps when we are stuck in our own tombs…the ones we’ve made, and the ones we’ve been forced into by others. God cries out when we stubbornly refuse to come out of those dark, dusty places, and God calls us to come out of them. The God of life whom we worship and trust in cannot be contained in a tomb, and death has no control over God. Instead it is God who breaks down the stone and rolls it out and says to each and every one of us, Come Out.
Come out into the light of life, and don’t keep hiding in death because you won’t find anything there, but you’ll find everything in me. And God repeats this over and over and over again, every single time we shut ourselves out from life. Every time we find ourselves sneaking off into the deathly habits we’ve become so fond of, every time we wrap ourselves in grave clothes because they feel more like pajamas than fabric designed to keep our bodies from smelling so fast. Every time we take that first dig into our own graves, God weeps. And then we get called out of our tombs.
And that is the worst experience. Settling in for yet another night of loneliness, hot pockets, and Law and Order when a friend invites you to do something. Calling you out of your tomb isolation. Talking to a facebook friend who reminds you to make that appointment with a therapist for the 15th time and you finally listen. Being called out of the tombs we find ourselves in by others, who personify God’s calling us out. It’s the worst because those people, and everyone we encounter for those first few blinking moments in light and life and fresh air still see us, like lazarus, wrapped in bands of cloth, disoriented by the dizzying freshness of life. It’s the worst because we can’t hide our death fro anyone in the light…not our friends, not our community, not ourselves, not God.
I wonder if Lazarus also felt that way…ashamed that, as the king James version says, “he stinketh”. I wonder if Lazarus had become comfortable in his death for four days that coming into the light was like when we get called out of our tombs…shaken, and a little ashamed to be covered in the cloths of death. Fearful of what people might think of him.
Being alive again in a community of people who care about us while we’re still covered in the stink of death is uncomfortable. Until we remember that every one of us has been dead. Every one of us has had that moment of being called out of the tomb. Every one of us drags our stinking grave clothes out into the open. And every one of us is at the mercy of our community, of our friends, of our family, of our sisters and brothers in christ to let them weep for us, and then let them join in unbinding us from the death cloths that keep us wrapped and away from life. And every one of us gets the joy of unwrapping those around us and having them unwrap us. So the uncomfort we might be tempted to feel is part of the death that clings to us, because we’ve all been there. And we’ve all been there when someone comes back to life. And that is a reason to rejoice.
Did Lazarus want to be brought back to life? Do we want to be brought back to life? Thankfully it doesn’t matter. Because God knows that as comfortable as death is for us, life is better, and God constantly calls us out of the tomb, and tells our community to unbind us from death to live. To really, and truly live.
What kinds of death do you bind yourself to? How have you heard God calling you out of the tomb?