Saints Sunday 2006
Jesus is the benefactor
in this morning’s Gospel, and his gift is unexpected.
Jesus receives word from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus is
ill. They hope Jesus will come right
away and tend to him. Instead, Jesus
stays away two days longer. Jesus
knew this wasn’t Lazarus’ final dying day, his human death, like the death
all of us will face someday. Jesus
knew this illness wasn’t so much about Lazarus as it was about Jesus and
God’s promise of life through him.
So it isn’t until
Lazarus has been dead for four days that Jesus comes. Mary and Martha are
exasperated and take their turns saying, “Lord, if you had been here my
brother would not have died.” “Lord,
if only you would have…” Such a
common human response! I know the
response. Perhaps you do too.
If only we would have had hind sight ahead of time.
If only we would have been wiser; if only this, if only that…
Jesus did come way too
late. First century understanding
was that for the first three days after death the soul could re-unite with the
body and the person could be revived. But
at four days, all hope for such reunion was gone.
Jesus waits until that fourth day – that day of hopelessness.
There is nothing to do now but grieve.
And then it is that Jesus comes! He
comes into the grieving – not just to observe but to share in it himself.
More than any other
passage in the New Testament, today’s story shows us the human face of Jesus.
Jesus himself weeps. He
doesn’t just sense their sadness, but experiences the painful reality of death
himself. We learn from Jesus that
death is not taken lightly. It is
real. Even for Jesus.
And it is sad. As Professor
Sandra Schneiders of
And the reason that there
is no need for despair in the midst of weeping is that Jesus says, “Take away
the stone.” But Martha reacts. This
is too little too late. Lazarus’
body would already be decaying. There
is no more hope. And that is
precisely why Jesus timed his arrival at day four.
He knew they had not yet caught the joy that in him they would have zoe – the Greek word for eternal life.
But Jesus isn’t put off
by Martha’s reaction and speaks into the tomb, into the place of loss and fear
and sadness and cries out with a loud voice. “Lazarus, come out!”
When there is no more hope in our normal ways of seeing, the word of
Jesus breaks through. Where we see
only death and grief and sorrow, there, surprisingly, is zoe – the everlasting
life of God.
Jesus commands his
beloved friend, “Lazarus, come out.” What
we have here from first century Christians is their discovery that death has
lost its sting in Jesus. Lazarus
witnesses that though we die, yet shall we live.
Four days had passed. And
yet, Jesus comes and calls.
This promise is for us as
well. Someday we too will arrive at
our dying day, but the message of the Gospel is that then – when all earthly
hope is gone – hope beyond grieving, beyond human sorrow will cry out to us:
“Beloved friend, come out.”
And while this command is
for that day of our final dying, it is equally for the daily dying and rising we
are called to in baptism – a new day of “Yes!” to what God will make
possible with this new rising sun. And
it is this rising to daily life that Lazarus models for us, for as Jesus knew,
that dying was not Lazarus’ final dying day.
He is greeted by his loved ones once again and one more significant thing
happens for him.
Note what Jesus says
next. The narrator mentions that
Lazarus’ hands are bound together and his face is covered.
Jesus does not unbind him. He will do what is impossible for us to do,
but he will not do what we can do. Lazarus
emerges from the tomb with hands and feet bound and his face wrapped. And Jesus
says to them, “Unbind him.”
The Gospel doesn’t tell us what happens next, but we can picture it.
Can’t you see Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ friends rushing to do what
Jesus asks? It’s so simple,
“unbind him.” With flowing
tears, I’m sure they tore off what bound him!
Even with our daily
intention to raise anew through Baptism, we still bring with us our wounds and
bound up hearts and minds and spirits. We
can be bound by sorrow or grief, shame or exhaustion, with worries about loved
ones and worries about ourselves. But
Jesus doesn’t leave us to ourselves. “Jesus
said to them, “Unbind him.”
“Free him from whatever would keep his hands from clapping and his
heart from singing.”
That them of which Jesus speaks is the community of faith.
That them is us!
And there are so many ways we can participate in the ministry of
unbinding. We can provide each other
with worship opportunities – like Sunday mornings, and like Taize services
where we soak in God’s love. We
can inspire each other through educational ministries.
We can care for one
another by visiting the homebound and hospitalized.
We can reach beyond ourselves by serving dinner at the Torres Shelter, by
keeping our buildings in good order for the use of others and our grounds
beautiful for all to see. We can serve the needy through our Joseph Project and
our partnership with Lutherans in
This is the ministry of
unbinding. God raises each of us daily through baptismal grace of forgiveness
and calling. We cannot and do not need to raise ourselves or each other. But
we are entrusted with the ministry of unbinding. God does not do for us what we
can do for each other. God has done
God’s work and empowers us to now do ours.
Reg and I believe that
God has loved this community into being for a purpose.
And because we believe this, we have chosen to invest in this ministry
with a tithe and beyond on this Try-a-tithe Sunday, but at least with a tithe on
an on-going basis. We believe this
ministry of unbinding – the ministry of Christ’s church – is as important
as any investment we can make, for it is to the church that Christ gave his
gifts of grace in water and word, bread and wine.
But even more than a good
investment, our giving to the church is in response to something else.
At its deepest level, our desire to give to the church is in response to
our knowing how different our lives are because we have come to know ourselves
as known by the One who sets us free, and along with that knowing, we have also
come to appreciate what it is to be a part of a community where we are learning
together to unbind each other through grace and love and challenge to live the
We also sense that many
of you hold a similar gratitude and are already sharing the adventure of
generosity toward this ministry. The
mystery is that as we share in the unbinding of this world God so loves, we
discover our hands too become unbound in the process.
Our hearts too become set free. One
cannot turn outward without letting go and opening up.
What God calls us to do, God also blesses us with in the doing.
Jesus could have, of
course, unbound Lazarus himself. But
I believe he loved us too much to take that joy from us.
He knew joy would be found as we compassionately share in each other’s
healing. And so Jesus said to them,
“Unbind him.” Them, friends in Christ, R us!
Them R us!
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson,
to the glory of God