5th Sunday in Lent, Year A
April 6, 2014
Lazarus is ill. He is also a friend of Jesus. Jesus has healed lots of people. So one would think that when Jesus receives word that Lazarus is sick he would immediately go to Lazarus and heal him. He won’t have even needed to go to him. Jesus had healed some from afar.
But Jesus doesn’t go immediately to heal Jesus. In fact we are told that when he heard that Lazarus was sick he remained where he was for two days.
Then he goes but by time he arrives there Lazarus has already died. Has Jesus failed? Of course not!
Both Martha and Mary speak to Jesus, stating their faith that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Theirs is a great faith but it is not a “complete” faith.
Jesus speaks to Martha of “rising”. Martha says she knows that we will rise in the resurrection on the last day. She does not realize that Jesus is the Resurrection.
By the time Jesus arrives at the tomb, Lazarus has been dead for four days. It is important that it says four days because in the Jewish understanding of the day, the soul lingered for three days but after four days there would be absolutely no hope of life.
That does not prevent Jesus from performing a great work. Martha, Mary, and many others have come to believe in Jesus’ power to drive out demons and cure the sick but no one would ever fathom that Jesus had power even over death.
That’s precisely why Jesus does this miracle!
For them death seemed so final but what is death?
Death is an end to life as we know it here on Earth but it is not an end to life. This distinction is essential to our faith.
Every burial I do at the graveside, the intercessions start off with Jesus’ words from today’s gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” There we are standing at the graveside. When can death ever some more certain than when we stand at the grave?
Yet, that is the precise moment when we receive these words of Jesus that if we believe we will not die. In human words, it makes no sense.
But in faith, it takes on a whole other significance. In the scope of eternal life, physical death means little. Yes, it means we no longer live in this physical world and is no easy thing to accept.
Seen without faith, physical death is an end. Seeing as God sees, physical death is merely a rite of passage to be with God in Heaven.
So what is the death that we must fear?
The death that matters is eternal separation from God (Hell). Ezekiel speaks to the people in exile the Lord’s promise that he will open their graves and raise them up. We see this as a prophecy of the Resurrection in Jesus but with the next line “and bring you back to the land of Israel” it speaks of how the Israelites feel they have been separated from God in exile. We know that God is everyone but in the days of the Exile, the understanding was that when you leave a land, you left the god of that land behind. So the Israelites, felt separated from their god. God promises to fix the separation, returning them to Israel.
What separates us from God? What causes spiritual death?
Sin! Jesus can fix that too.
Physical death is not easy to take but as people of faith, it is spiritual death that we should fear.