Lent 5 A - Lazarus is Raised


Opening Story: 1: A sign of resurrection:

As Vice-President, George Bush represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow.  She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed.  Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed in Communist Russia: she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.  There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all made a gesture suggesting that her husband had been wrong.  She hoped that there was another way of life – a life best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that this same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband and raise him up on the Day of the Judgment.  (Gary Thomas, Christian Times, October 3, 1994, p. 26.)
2. Look, he's Moving!:

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: "What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?"
The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community. 
The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow," said another. 
The third friend said, I would like them to say, "Look, he's moving!!" 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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Today, the 5th Sunday in Lent, we conclude the trilogy of instructions taken from the Gospel of John for Catechumens.  The gospel readings of the previous two Sundays focussed on water (Jn 4) and light (Jn 9). Today our focus is on life (Jn 11).  These three narratives, centring on the three primordial elements, are a build up to the Easter vigil which will also revolve around water, light and new life.  These three elements simply point to Christ, the source of life. (Fr. Sahaya Selvam, sdb)
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Michel DeVerteuil
General comments


As on last Sunday, we have a long passage in which several stories are interwoven.

Jesus brings Lazarus out of the tomb; this is experienced as a liberation from bondage – “Unbind him and let him go free.” Identify with Lazarus from your experience. He symbolizes those who have been written off (by others but also by themselves) as dead – people? communities? a country or a civilization? 

Textual comments

       Verses 3 and 36; 15; 39; 41 and 42 : Faced with the bondage of the tomb, Jesus is armed with love (verses 3 and 36), trust in the Father (vs. 15, 39, 41 and 42), and deep compassion (vs. 33, 35, 38). Enter into the dramatic confrontation in which these forces are victorious over death.

       Verses 25 – 26; 29 and 40 :  Jesus leads Martha (and to a lesser extent Mary) to a new insight into the power of faith over death by his teaching (vs. 25 and 26) and by commanding her to take the stone away (vs. 29 and 40). Recognize this journey from your own discovery of the power of faith over the forces of death and whatever keeps us in bondage. Where is Jesus teaching us this by word and example?

       Verses 9 and 10 :  Jesus returns to Judaea, the place of death, in perfect freedom, because of his own faith which is an inner light that keeps him from stumbling.
       The disciples decide to accompany Jesus in his journey to death, which turns out to be a place of new life and freedom. When did you or your community take such a risk and experience a similar surprise?

       Since we are approaching Holy Week, interpret the story of the crucifixion of Jesus in the light of this story: there too, faith and love prove victorious over the forces of death and darkness.

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Homily notes
 

1. What does believing in the resurrection mean in our lives The temptation is to make an abstract statement about what one ‘believes’ will happen post mortem, but Christian faith is much more than this: it requires that we live as people who have been raised to new life and for whom death and th tomb are not the end. To believe in this sense is not to assent to a set of statements beyond what can be proven by som sort of empirical observation, but to adopt a lifestyle that embodies the assumption that God is calling each of us to new life. Christian believing is, therefore” something that requires constant practice. This means that I cannot believe, in my life, and living and activity, that God is offering people new life, while being indifferent to human suffering, pain, poverty, a oppression.

2. Many people dwell at length on the’ difficulties of believing and wondering whether they can assert as true or false some statement such as ‘there is life after death’ or ‘there is a continuation of personal identity after death’ or whether or not there is ‘a cycle of reincarnation’. But these speculations are quite irrelevant to the gospel- and its challenge of taking the difficulties of the lifestyle of resurrection do not attract the same attention as the abstract ‘difficulties of believing’. The gospel writers all believed that there was a caring and involved God, and and individual identity that survived death, and that there was an ‘afterlife’ – none of these beliefs are an issue in the gospels they are simply assumed. What they proclaim as new, and as revealed in Jesus, is that God offers a covenant of forgivepess that cannot be destroyed, and the invitation to follow the way of holiness is to live life after the pattern of that forgiving and constant divine love.
As we are loved, so we love;
as we are forgiven, so we forgive;
as we receive mercy, so we must be merciful,
and as our lives are transformed, so we must help to transform the lives of others.

What we wish for from God on the heavenly plane, must be that which we transmit to others on our own human plane. So to believe in resurrection, and in the resurrection of Jesus, is to live such a life, of hope:

if I look forward to mercy and fullness of life from God, how can I not show mercy to someone in need;
if I look to the transformed life of heaven, how can I not want to transform the lives of those suffering on earth. Here lies a difficulty:
is it easier to engage in disputes over abstract beliefs;
or to engage in almsgiving and be really committed to a just world – perhaps one where one has to take a fall in one’s own standard of living so that others can have a better life?
Believing in resurrection is not ‘yippee, I’m saved by Jesus’, but something very costly: I believe I am given new life; I must act on that as the fact in my life and convey new life to others.

3. On the other hand, we have to note how we often live within a pattern of attitudes that are equivalent to denying resurrection. The gospel today shows up several of the main forms of non-belief.

First, attitudes of despair in the face of human suffering deny resurrection. Here are some of the standard expressions of despair: ‘Why bother when it will make no difference,’ or ‘There is nothing to be done,’ or ‘It is too late.’ We must act with hope and one only needs hope when one is in the presence of adversity.

Second, attitudes of it ‘all being too much bother’ when faced with wickedness or falsehood or discrimination. There are always difficulties – ‘there will now be a smell’ – but until we confront them as a community which is strengthened by God’s grace, those difficulties will only grow. Not that there is any guarantee that in confronting them we will succeed or that we will not encounter suffering – our symbol is a cross – but that in confronting the difficulties we look forward to the final victory of the Christ.

Thirdly, attitudes of fatalism: the assumption that there is really no hope of things changing, and that there is no possibility of conversion. Lazarus is already in the tomb, dead and bound. Such an attitude of fatalism denies the forgiving nature of God, and denies that there can be goodness in his universe.

4. It is in confronting each day the suffering, darkness, and wickedness that can engulf us that we show that we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the one who has shattered all that oppresses us. Belief in resurrection may seem one of the most abstract aspects of our religion, yet nothing makes such concrete and material demands on us. 

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Jack Mc Ardle
Central Theme
 

Have you noticed that gospels these Sundays are very long? (Next Sunday’s gospel is the Passion narrative, which is the longest gospel in the liturgical calendar.) Once again, today, we have a story that contains very central issues of the message and mission of Jesus. It is about love, about friendship, about life, and about death. There are some beautiful human touches like, for example, when Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus, or when their encounter reveals a very warm relationship between himself and Martha and Mary.

Teaching 

Lazarus had gone through that experience, except he had gone all the way. In fact, he was dead for four days. I am in no position to make a comment, but i can only assume that Lazarus  was brought back to life. Unlike Jesus, at a later stage, Lazarus still had to travel down that same road. In a way, you could say that Jesus didn’t do him any great favour. I can understand the strong response of Jesus when he met the widow of Naim going to bury her only son. It is normal for a child to bury a parent, but it is never easy for a parent to have to bury a child. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were special friends of Jesus; so much so that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ graveside. They were tears of love, not tears of despair. Grief is the price you pay for love. If you never want to cry at a funeral, then don’t ever love anyone. That would be a very high price to pay to avoid something that is essentially part of life itself. ;:;

There is obviously a plan and purpose in. all this. After all, Jesus had plenty of warning, but he seems to have deliberately held out going straight to Bethany. Even When he knew that Lazarus was dead, he said ‘Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, because this will give you another opportunity to believe in me. Come, let’s go see him.’ It is hard to imagine that Jesus let Lazarus die just to strengthen his disciples’ belief in him by raising Lazarus to life again! I don’t pretend to know why it happened as it did, but I can hazard one possibility. Jesus was with people in a particular place and, because they took up his full attention, he wasn’t about to run off and leave them just because Lazarus was sick. Lazarus was his friend, but these people were also very important to him, because God has no favourites. Having let nature take its course, and discovering that Lazarus was dead, he went to be with his friends Martha and Mary in their hour of grief. Seeing their grief, and experiencing his own sense of loss, he raised Lazarus from the dead. He did this because he had the power to do this. It would effect good in the lives of many: people, apart from Lazarus himself. It would strengthen the ‘faith of his apostles and especially would it have a direct foreshadowing significance in the fact that he himself was soon to die. Through Lazarus, Jesus was preparing his apostles was what was to come. When he spoke of his own death, he always added that he would rise again. .:

The core message of today’s gospel is in,the words Jesus addressed to Martha. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me, and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?’ Martha’s answer was direct, and to the point. ‘Yes, Lord’, she told him. ‘I have always believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world from God.’ Do you believe this? This is the question each of us must answer. Everyone of us has to deal with death as part of life, both for ourselves and for those around us. After the consecration of the Mass, we often use the words, ‘Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life … Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free … ‘ Today we needto face up to what those words really mean, ask ourselves if we believe what we say. 

2 Stories 

1. The Greek writer Plutarch tells the following story about Alexander the Great. One day Alexander came upon Diogenes the ancient philosopher, and he was examining some bones. He had two sets of human bones in two separate boxes. When Alexander asked him what he was doing, he said he was reflecting on some of the more important lessons of life. ‘For example’, said Diogenes, ‘the two sets of bones here are those of your father, and of one of his slaves. I have examined them now for some time, and I honestly must confess that I cannot find any difference between them.’

2. John Quincy Adams, at 80 years of age, was shuffling along outside his house one day, when a neighbour greeted him with the question, ‘And how is Mr John Quincy Adams this morning?’ The old man replied, ‘John Quincy Adams himself is very well, thank you. But the home he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shaken, the roof is worn. The building trembles, and shivers with every wind, and I’m afraid John Quincy Adams will soon have to move out of it, move on, and change residence and address. But he himself is very well.’

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Scripture Reflection

       Lord, we remember today the times when we were like Lazarus in the tomb,
       rejected, discouraged, in despair, feeling that life was not worth living,
       overwhelmed by guilt so that we wanted to hide ourselves away from the world.
       We thank you that you sent Jesus to us as we lay in the tomb –
       a friend, a parent, uncle or aunt, some member of our church community –
       and this Jesus loved us,
       reached out to us in the tomb,
       and in a loud, confident voice, called us to come out.
       Thank you, Lord.

       “Christianity is not about opposing evil. It is a call to live in contrast to
       the prevailing mode of fragmentation and despair.” 
       Derrick Wilson, founder of the ecumenical Corrymeela Centre in Northern Ireland
      
Lord, there are many who are Lazarus in our country,
       seeming alive but really in the tomb:
       – those who are letting themselves be killed by alcohol or drugs,
       – those who are cynical, who have no energy or enthusiasm.
       We ask you to send them Jesus
       – someone who will be a friend to them as Jesus was to Lazarus,
       – will not be afraid to remove the stone that is closing them in,
       – will ignore us when we protest that they are already four days in the grave
       and will smell,
       – will call them to come out, and set them free.

       “How much better to carry relief to the poor rather than sending it.”  John Wesley
      
       Lord, we thank you for Jesus’ great distress, for the tears he shed,
       for the sighs that came straight from the heart.
       We come to you today with our own grief,
       our anger in the face of death, hatred, cynicism and despair.
       Teach us, like Jesus, to leave ourselves in your hands,
       remembering that you always hear our prayers,
       if we only believe we will see your glory,
       and through our faith we can call Lazarus from the tomb,
       unbind him and set him free.

       “All the doctrinal work of the Church is focused in only one direction, serving human beings in their every condition, in their every ailment, in every way. The Church has proclaimed herself the handmaid of humanity”     Pope Paul VI

       We pray for your Church, in our country and in the world,
       – that we may be Jesus in the world,
       – walking without stumbling because we are walking in your light;
       – not afraid to go to Judaea even when we know we could be put to death there;
       – that we may let ourselves be led to where Lazarus is lying in a tomb,
       – so that we can share in the grief of the world and in its sighs.
       Fill your Church with the love of Jesus for Lazarus,
       and with his trust in you,
       so that she may call him out of the tomb and set him free

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1.     Connections: 

THE WORD:

As was the case in John’s account of the healing of the man born blind (last Sunday’s Gospel), the raising of Lazarus is more than just a sign of Jesus’ love and compassion.  Each of the seven miracles that John includes in his Gospel (“the Book of Signs,” as this section of John’s Gospel is titled) is dramatized by the evangelist to underscore some dimension of the redemptive nature of Jesus’ work.  Today’s Gospel, the climactic sign in John’s Gospel, is presented in five distinct, self-contained scenes: Jesus receiving the news of Lazarus’ death, the disciples’ protesting Jesus’ return to Judea, Martha’s pleading with Jesus, Jesus’ emotional arrival at the tomb, and the miraculous raising of Lazarus.

The raising of Lazarus is clearly intended by John to demonstrate Jesus’ power over life and death.  The raising of Lazarus plays like a rehearsal for the events next week’s liturgies will celebrate. 

HOMILY THEMES:

As Jesus called out to Lazarus to be untied from the wrappings of the dead and to be free to live once again, so we are called to be free from those things that keep us too busy from loving and being loved.

Resurrection is an attitude, a perspective that finds hope in the hardest times and uncovers life among the ruined, that reveals light in the darkest night.  To each one of us belongs Jesus’ work of resurrection at Lazarus’s tomb: to help others free themselves from their tombs of dark hopelessness and the fear and sadness that bind them.   

The eternal hope of the gardener

His life was a never-ending winter of depression.  His heart had been broken too many times; his last few dreams finally died in defeat and disappointment.  He would leave his house only to go teach his classes or see his doctor, but his real life was lived under a blanket in his dark bedroom.

Then, one day, he was drawn to his empty yard and felt the urge to dig.  He turned over spade after spade of dirt until he had cleared a small plot.  He planted a few seeds and managed to find the energy to water and fertilize and weed.  Soon he picked his first small basket of tomatoes and beans.  He now had reason to get out of bed.  He was a gardener.

That was a few years ago.  As he looks back, he wonders what he could have done if only he had gotten up out of bed and put on his shoes:   He could have built a boat.  He could have written a book.  He could have planted a garden.

Now, each winter, as the snows rage, he spends hours at his kitchen table planning the next year’s garden.  On a large piece of paper he marks the rows: carrots here, potatoes there, beans in that section, tomato plants and corn on the edges.  Maybe something different — kale or spinach?  Would this be the year he would attempt a watermelon vine?  He eagerly looks forward to the new the seed catalog each year; he devours gardening books and is constantly checking out horticultural websites looking for new ways to make next season’s garden greener and more productive. 

While the world around him is entombed in winter, he lives in the never-disappointing hope of spring, looking forward to digging in his garden and gathering the bounty of the harvest.

[Suggested by “The Garden” by Richard Jones, Spirituality & Heath, March-April 2011.]

All of us have experienced some extended spiritual “winter” when we have felt trapped by the feeling that nothing matters much, when we are entombed by disappointment, hurt and grief — or we are so absorbed in work or others’ expectations that distract us from being the kind of spouse, parent, child or friend we want to be.  The Christ who calls Lazarus from his tomb calls us out of the tombs we dig for ourselves in order to walk in the light of hope and possibility.  He calls us to live life to the fullest, to bring the love of God into our cold, winter world.  Jesus calls not only to Lazarus but to all of us:  Come out!  Go free!  Unbind yourselves from the wrappings of death!  Live life to the fullest — the life given to you by a loving God.  May we hear that same call to life in our darkest and coldest winters, enabling us to drop the bindings of disappointment and anger and embrace the never failing hope of the gardener and the good earth.    

2.     Fr. John Conley, sj

 Martha’s Grief and True Hope

Purpose:  The Lenten readings summon us to experience a foretaste of Christian hope in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  In our society, hope in the resurrection and eternal life needs to be distinguished from the purely secular hopes which are often offered as substitutes for it.

One Lenten Sunday, I was seated in the congregation of a prominent Jesuit church.  The preacher announced that the theme of his homily was Christian hope.  He informed us that “true Christian hope is the belief that tomorrow will always be more beautiful than today.”  With this Hallmark Hall of Cards opening, the priest then explained that Christians are always optimistic (real “can-doers”), never wear a frown, and know how to turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade.  “Hopeful people are never down.”

Father’s gushing sermon perfectly expressed the perennial American gospel of the power of positive thinking, but it was a counterfeit of Christian hope.  Today’s gospel on the raising of Lazarus presents a portrait of authentic Christian hope, complete with the tears and the fear which accompany even the most loving disciple.

 The opening of the gospel is remarkable for its realistic presentation of the grief of Martha.  She is stunned by the death of her brother Lazarus, probably a young man who died a rapid death.  She is not only in grief, she is angered that Jesus did not come more quickly to prevent Lazarus from dying.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  St. John repeatedly underlines the particular love which Jesus had toward the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  The Benedictine liturgical calendar has a beautiful feast dedicated to this mystery: Saints Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, friends of the Lord.

 When Jesus encounters Martha in her sorrow, he leads her to authentic faith and hope.  He asks her two questions.  “Martha, do you believe that your brother will rise?”  Martha responds that she does believe that her brother will rise from the dead on the last day.  The response of Martha is typical for a pious Jew of the period.  There is some sort of personal survival from death, and there is some sort of day of judgment at the end of time for the living and the dead.  But the terms of this hope remain vague and impersonal.  Jesus then asks her the question of faith.  “Martha, do you believe that I am the resurrection and the eternal life you are looking for?  Do you believe that in and through me you will have this life beyond death you yearn for?”  It is only then that Martha makes her act of faith as disciple.  She acclaims Christ as the Son of God, come into the world to redeem it from sin.  The hope for eternal life for the just is no longer vague or only philosophical.  It is now a matter of Christ’s resurrection and the disciple’s belief in it.

The encounter with Martha still confronts the contemporary world.  When Christ asks the first question about life after death, the vast majority of Americans will still answer in the affirmative.  There is something beyond death, and it has something to do with the moral choices we make in this life.  But this hope is vague, with God the Judge often reduced to a sentimental easy grader.  Christ urgently asks us the second question.  Do we believe that in him we find the resurrection from the dead that only God in his mercy can grant?  Do we believe that in the risen Christ we see our own ultimate future in communion with God through God’s freely given grace, and our own freely given cooperation? 

It is this question, and the living response in Jesus Christ, that guides us to the heart of authentic Christian hope.  It is a hope which no political committee, no therapeutic technique, and no exercise in positive thinking can give us.  It is the hope of freedom from sin and death which is the gift outright in the passion and resurrection of Christ.

The risen Lazarus confirms the truth, contradicting all biology, and all logic: that in Christ God’s power can conquer even death.  Of course, Lazarus will die again in several years.  He only points weakly to the conquest of death in Christ which will know no further death.  He points to the glory of Christ risen forever, and embodies the authentic Christian hope that the faithful disciple will one day share the glory beyond the tomb and beyond our deepest grief.  

3.     ACP 

Living life to the full

It seems a bit strange to have this gospel on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It seems to be clearly about the resurrection and yet we are still plodding through Lent and have to get through Good Friday before we get to Easter. What’s going on; have the Church’s liturgical engineers got it all wrong? Can I suggest that this text is more about death than resurrection? After all, Lazarus isn’t walking around today; he had to undergo another death. This text is more about our life and death here and now rather than about the resurrection. We will have time enough to consider the resurrection when we get to Easter Sunday and the weeks of celebration afterwards.

In his Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius Loyola suggests that when reading a particular Gospel passage we should put ourselves in the place of each character in turn and use our imagination to see how we would feel in those circumstances. This can be a most revealing exercise. How about putting myself in the place of Lazarus? I am dead to everything and then I hear a voice: ‘Come out, Lazarus.’ There I am, lying in a tomb swathed in bandages and surrounded by darkness. If we wonder how we would feel in this situation, the answer would be different for everyone but I think many might say: Thanks Lord, but I’d prefer to stay where I am.

While attempting to put ourselves imaginatively in Lazarus’s place we might become aware of how tomb-like our present way of life is, and rekindle a longing for freedom which has perhaps been buried for years. Putting ourselves into the place of a character from scripture can awake all kinds of thoughts within us and lead us to turn to God in prayer with new words on our lips. Yet it is something so simple that we are surprised that we never thought about it ourselves. This Gospel features here in Lent to help us come to live life to the full; for often it is only in the face of death that we are shocked into this realisation. This can happen to us in all sorts of ways on the occasion of a loss or bereavement. It is amazing how often it takes overcoming a negative experience to make us realise afresh how much there is that is truly positive and makes life worth living. 

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:


1) Carrying a dead soul in a living body? 

 
In Virgil, there is an account of an ancient king, who was so unnaturally cruel in his punishments that he used to chain a dead man to a living criminal.  It was impossible for the poor wretch to separate himself from his disgusting burden.  The carcass was bound fast to his body -- its hands to his hands; its face to his face; the entire dead body to his living body.  Then he was put into a dungeon to die suffocated by the foul emissions of the stinking dead body.  Many suppose that it was in reference to this that Paul cried out: "O wretched man that I am!"  Today’s readings invite us to turn away from sin, approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and revive the dead soul we are carrying within our body,  thus becoming  eligible for the glorious resurrection Jesus promised to believers at the tomb of Lazarus. 

2) Good news – bad news joke:

John and Jim were professional players with the Atlanta Braves who lived and breathed baseball. These guys breathed, discussed, ate, and slept baseball. One of their big concerns was whether there would be baseball in heaven. They loved baseball so much that they were not sure at all they wanted to spend eternity in heaven unless they could play baseball. They had an agreement that the first one who died would somehow get a message back to earth, letting the other know whether baseball was in heaven or not. Well, it happened. John died, and Jim grieved. He grieved for days - deeply saddened over his friend John’s death. About two weeks went by, and then it happened. Jim was awakened in the middle of the night by the calling of his name, “Jim, Jim, Jim, wake up! This is John.” “John, where are you?” “I’m in heaven - and I have some good news and bad news. It’s exciting, Jim. We do have baseball in heaven. It’s great. We play every day and there are marvelous teams, and tough, exciting competition.” “That’s great,” said Jim. “But what’s the bad news?” “Well,” said John, “You are scheduled to pitch next Tuesday.”

From Sermons.com:

Good News all around us and I have good news for you: God has a resurrection for you! He wants to bring you out into the light again. He wants to bring you out of that tomb of oppression and give you a new start. And listen! He has the power to do it. He can bring you back to life.

This powerful story in John 11 speaks to this. Remember it with me. Mary and Martha who live in Bethany are some of Jesus' closest friends... They send word to him that their brother, whose name is Lazarus, is desperately ill. "Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast." But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died... and has been in his grave for four days. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they express their grief: "He's gone. We've lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died." 

The family and friends have gathered and in their deep sorrow, they begin to weep over the loss of their loved one, Lazarus. The heart of Jesus goes out to them... and Jesus weeps with them. He loved Lazarus, too... and he loves them... and he shares their pain. Jesus goes out to the cave-like tomb and he says to them: "Roll back the stone!" Martha, always the realist and ever ready to speak out, protests: "But Lord, we can't do that. He has been in the grave for 4 days. By now there will be a terrible odor." Jesus says to her: "Martha, only believe and you will see the power of God." 

So they roll the stone away... and Jesus cries out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come forth!" And incredibly, miraculously, amazingly, before their very eyes... Lazarus is resurrected! He comes out of the tomb. He still has on his grave clothes. His head and feet are still wrapped with mummy-like bandages. Jesus then turns to the friends and family and says to them, "Unbind him and let him go. Unwrap him and set him free." 

In this graphic and dramatic story, three awesome lessons jump out at us. Three great truths emerge which can be so helpful to us today. Let me list them for us: Jesus wept with those he loved and he still does. Jesus raised people up and he still does. Jesus included others in the healing process... and he still does...
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Springtime is the season of uncontained optimism.  

As the days grow longer, and the sun grows stronger, it feels time to do something outrageous. We dig into the earth, carefully plow and pulverize hard clods into fine loam. We remove the weeds and grasses. We add extra nutrients to enrich the prepared soil. Then into that lush, fertile mixture we gently deposit . . . dried up, shriveled, little (sometimes downright tiny), seemingly completely dead bits of matter. We call them "seeds." 

Nothing looks less "lively" than a seed. The tiniest ones--lettuces, carrots, radishes--are so minuscule that planting them is like putting into the soil grains of coarse black pepper. Corn and beans "look" like corn kernels and soup beans. Well, they look like corn kernels and beans that have been lost on the floor of your pantry for six months or so, rejected even by the mice. Definitely NOT "good eats." And yet we joyfully plunge these desiccated crumbs into the soil we have sweated over, completely confident that something will come out of our efforts.  

Springtime is the season of belief. Every spring we believe in the power of the life that lives within those apparently dead seed husks. We believe that just a few handfuls of seeds can produce a glorious new crop to nourish our lives and feed our families.

Of course, bringing that potential crop to full fruition takes a lot more than simply dropping seeds into the ground and walking away. As every backyard gardener or full-time farmer knows, once you put those babies into the soil you are in a relationship with that garden, with those fields, with the weather. Seeds require constant nurturing - watering, weeding, protection from predators, large and small. New life comes from within the seed. But ensuring the continuation of that potential new life comes from an ongoing relationship with that life, our commitment to doing all we can to ensure that every single seed becomes part of yet another new harvest. 

This week's epistle text is Paul's springtime seed catalog... 
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Giving Thanks for Our Trouble 

Ours is a God who does not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted and does not hide his face from them." There is always a sense in which great living is found in the midst of suffering and tears. 

An old Yiddish folk story tells of a well-to-do gentleman of leisured much interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. He visited a wise rabbi to ask a question. He said: "I think I grasp the sense and meaning of these writings except for one thing. I cannot understand how we can be expected to give God thanks for our troubles." The rabbi knew instantly that he could not explain this with mere words. He said to the gentleman: "If you want to understand this, you will have to visit Isaac the water-carrier." The gentleman was mystified by this, but knowing the rabbi to be wise, crossed to a poor section of the settlement and came upon Isaac the water-carrier, an old man who had been engaged in mean, lowly, backbreaking labor for some fifty years. 

The gentleman explained the reason for his visit. Isaac paused from his labors. Finally, after several minutes of silence, looking baffled, he spoke: "I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men. But I cannot understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can't answer it because I've had nothing but wonderful things happen to me. I thank God every morning and night for all his many blessings on me and my family." 

It is true, is it not? The pure in heart see God. The humble in spirit know Christ's joy and enter into God's glory. "For I consider," writes Paul, "that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
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 Joy Unbounded, Glory Fulfilled

 Pastor/Bishop Kenneth Ulmer (Inglewood, California) envisions the animating, life-fulfilling power of the Holy Spirit as like the transformation that comes over the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon figures as they're inflated. Without any air these huge balloons lay flat on the floor, limp, and featureless figures. But when the wind starts whipping up inside those balloons, they begin to rise, stand up, and stand tall. They become individuals, people and creatures that we recognize and love. Once on the parade route, these balloons take on even more life, for they are animated not just by the air within them, but by the winds that buffet and bolster them down the street. 

In today's gospel text, Jesus doesn't appear before Martha and Mary - who are in agony over the death of their brother Lazarus - just to bring them a casserole. Jesus doesn't cluck his tongue and concede that Lazarus' death is a tragedy. 

Jesus goes to his best friend's tomb and calls out, "Lazarus, come forth!" As experienced by Ezekiel and the psalmist, once again the animating spirit of God moves with power and precision, and brings a dead man walking right out of his tomb! This is what God settles for. Miracle, rebirth, deliverance from the pit, and eternal redemption. God doesn't define winning as not losing. God doesn't settle for anything less than joy unbounded, and glory filled dreams fulfilled. 

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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The Way Out 

Most everyone has worked one of those mazes where you follow the right path to find your way out. As you move your pencil through the maze you keep running into dead ends until you find the one path that sets you free.

Life is a lot like living in a maze. We continue to take wrong turns which lead nowhere and often retrace our steps until we can find our way. It can be very frustrating. Sometimes we never do find our way out. Those are the times we are stuck and feel like a prisoner with no escape.

Today I want to help set you free. I believe that no matter how difficult the maze you live in may seem, there is always a way out. Not even death can stand in the way of your life's journey.
 

Keith Wagner, Only One Way Out
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 The Third Day 

It was a popular belief that soul and body were finally separated after 3 days -- with no hope of resuscitation. Lazarus' resurrection thus points to Jesus' resurrection. The event forces decision on belief or disbelief in Jesus; his enemies understand that the die is cast. It is this decisiveness for faith, in a miracle that surpasses any possibility of rational explanation, that gives the incident its primary dramatic tension.  

Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary: John, p. 720 _______________________
Sunday's A Comin' 

Tony Campolo tells the story of a black Baptist preacher in the inner city of Philadelphia who preached a sermon Tony says he'll never forget. Tony preached first. He was "hot," so "hot" he says, that he even stopped and listened to himself. He sat down and said to his pastor: "Now see if you can top that one!" 

"Son," said the black pastor, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." For an hour and a half the pastor repeated these words over and over again: "It's Friday, but Sunday's a comin'."

"I've never heard anything like it," Tony said. "He just kept saying it. The congregation was spellbound by the power of it." 

"It's Friday. Mary, Jesus' mother is crying her eyes out. That's her son up there on the cross. He's dying the agonizing death of crucifixion as a criminal. But it's only Friday," the preacher said. "Sunday's a comin'.

"The apostles were really down and out. Jesus, their leader, was being killed by evil men. But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'.

"The Devil thought he had won. 'You thought you could outwit me,' he said, 'but I've got you now.' But it was only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

"He went on like that for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. Each time he said, 'It's Friday,' the crowd began to respond, 'but Sunday's comin'. An hour and 15 minutes.

"It's Friday and evil has triumphed over good. Jesus is dying up there on the cross. The world is turned upside down. This shouldn't happen. But it's only Friday. Sunday's a comin'.

"It's Friday. But Sunday is comin'. Mary Magdalene was out of her mind with grief. Her Lord was being killed. Jesus had turned her life from sin to grace. Now he was dead. But it's only Friday. Sunday is a comin'."

The place was rocking. For an hour and a half. "Friday! But Sunday is a comin'. Friday. But Sunday is a comin'. 

"The sisters and the brothers are suffering. It just isn't fair...all they have to go through, but it's only Friday. Sunday is comin'."

"I was exhausted," Tony said. "It was the best sermon I've ever heard. The old preacher was saying it and the people were with him. 'It's Friday, but Sunday is a comin'. It was powerful," Tony said. "It was personal."

Ronald J. Lavin, I Am the Resurrection and the Life, www.Sermons.com
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I Will Be More Alive

 One of my favorite quotations, one I have used over and over again at funerals, comes from that great evangelist of the last century, Dwight L. Moody. Moody said, "One day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Well, don't believe a word of it. I will have gone up higher, that's all. Out of this old clay tenement into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And at that moment, I will be more alive than I have ever been."

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Run the Film in Reverse

When I was a child I used to love walking into Miss Hammond's 4th grade classroom to discover the shades drawn and a 16 mm projector set up facing the pull-down screen. This was more than the joy of knowing I wouldn't be asked to answer questions, read aloud, or work out problems on the black-board. For when there was time following the movie, rather than rewind the film, Miss Hammond would show the picture in reverse. We laughed hysterically at the antics produced on the screen: things which had disintegrated suddenly were reconstituted, buildings shaken to pieces by earthquakes took previous shape before our eyes, people who had been knocked to the ground suddenly sprang back to life. That is what these lessons are about today -- God's power to run the film in reverse, to reverse the initiatives of infinitude, to overcome the gravity of life, to address a problem in life which you and I cannot solve.

Fred Anderson, A Problem You Cannot Solve