I doubt any of us with a sick loved one, would call the doctor and say, “Lazarus has taken ill,” and hang up. That’s essentially what Lazarus’ sisters do to Jesus, beloved friend, miracle worker – were they gently hoping for a house call? Jesus waits until Lazarus dies, then goes – but why then? When he gets there the sisters say: “If you’d come earlier, he wouldn’t be dead.” Everyone’s weeping by now. Jesus joins in with his tears, even though he knows what comes next. Remember that, next time you weep with grief. Jesus weeps and cares deeply for and with us. “But if he loves him, why didn’t he come and heal him – and spare us the grief?”
“Take me to the tomb and open it,” Jesus orders. Martha interrupts: “Lord he’s been dead four days.” And she adds, according to the King James Version: “He stinketh.” I like that word – really miss King James sometimes. “Martha, I told you if you believed, you’d see God’s glory. Now watch.” Jesus prays aloud, “Father, thank you for all that has brought me to this moment – even death, so that those with me can believe.” What are they to believe? Believe how God so loves this world enough to raise the dead, and sends Jesus to show us what that looks like. In death, Jesus will reveal God’s glory. “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus shouts. And out walks the dead man.
Today, All Saints’ Sunday in the church, we honor famous faith heroes, martyrs, those who’ve been saints to us, and remember, you’re one, too. So what’s this story about Lazarus doing here? All we know of him – he has two sisters, doesn’t say a word, doesn’t do anything except eat. Quietly enduring a bossy sister like Martha – well, that could make him a saint. Who are saints anyway? They include ordinary people like us, who mess up, sin, and yet God still sets us apart for his service. Baptism begins our journey of “saint-ification.” You neither earn nor lose sainthood. You’re baptized into it. Jesus makes Lazarus a saint, calls him forth, marks him as his own, and brings him from death to life – a parable of what’s ahead for Jesus, Lazarus and for us.
That is God’s glory. Jesus calls Lazarus back to life out of death. We may have a hard time with this story, because we expect the world to be predictable, rational, and make sense. We are enlightened and scientific. We even call it the “natural world.” Anything outside of what’s natural, we call supernatural – as if it’s odd, doesn’t belong in our rational world. People of Jesus’ day are wiser about these matters than we are. Many of them were open for Jesus to lead them into a larger reality with God. What’s supernatural to us is natural to God, healing the deaf, restoring sight, changing water to wine, raising the dead. Jesus brings that to us from the Father. Of course some people just can’t quite imagine reality that way – then or now. What about you?
Note Jesus doesn’t heal all the sick or raise all the dead he encounters. His signs reveal what divine power will one day do. Lazarus gets a reprieve today, but later he’ll die again. Jesus merely pulls back the curtain. We glimpse God’s glory as a power that raises the dead.
You’ve heard of Near Death Experiences. Some years ago writer Frederick Buechner notes not all who get them want to come back here. They enter a greater world, wonderful and peace-filled and want to stay. Fred wondered if Lazarus wanted to come back. A renowned cardiologist, Dr. Pim van Lommel, early in his career, was stunned. A clinically dead patient, he’d just revived was mad to wake up alive on earth. Isn’t it “natural” to want to be snatched out of death’s jaws? But such reports are common of NDE’s. They are changed. They no longer fear death, and may find new purpose, hope and be filled with unconditional love. All this is to say, if we think miracles or Jesus’ powers are bogus, we probably won’t put much stock in resurrection, mystery, or be at peace with the unknown, in other words – living faith-less.
Jesus promises God’s abundant, generous life now – not just later. That doesn’t mean we don’t grieve and mourn when someone dies. Death is cast into God’s greater reality: God wins, death loses. In the midst of our weeping, Jesus comes, not just to weep with us – but to lead us into God’s larger world. Hear Jesus’ words again and anew: “Unbind him, and let him go.” We no longer need we be bound by fear, despair and grief. We are sanctified, or “saint-ified” in baptism – or, “Buried with Jesus in baptism; raised to walk in newness of life.” Spiritually we have crossed over already. When we catch onto all God is doing, gratitude becomes natural – we can’t help ourselves – and it won’t be just a year – it becomes a way of life. As saints, God takes our gratitude, and in our talents, time, and resources uses us for his glory.
Jesus continues to raise the dead today – through ordinary people like us. He empowers us to call the walking dead from insecurities, fears, confusion and sin. Sends us to unbind the bound, unwrap what’s covered, set free and bring God’s light into the world’s darkness.
All Saints – that’s who we are – bearing the light and radiance of God’s glory in our lives. Now in the words of that funky All Saints hymn – you go and be one, too.