Lazarus

Not This Time -- A Reflection on the Resurrection of Lazarus

Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com
Resurrection of Lazarus by A. Badile. Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post is adapted from a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Nixon.

Some of us have stood at a tomb, faced an open grave, scattered the ashes of one beloved. We know what it’s like to be confronted with the stark reality of death and the flood of conflicting emotions that comes with it. I’ve stood at different sites at Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise, Idaho, and the Veteran’s Cemetery next to it, to bury my father, my brother, my nephew, my step-father and-step sister, my brother-in-law, not to mention my beloved piano teacher, and a dear high school friend. Not so long ago I stood by the open grave of Patrice Heath as her casket was lowered into the ground. We prayed and wept and celebrated her life, but it is not an easy thing, under any circumstances, to lay a loved one to rest.  

The ancient story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John 11:1-45 is just such a situation. It’s also another occasion to encounter Jesus in his divinity and his humanity. It’s a long, complicated story. You have heard it read. I will not attempt to unpack it all.

Stepping in When Politicians Step Aside

Crop Hunger Walk poster photo courtesy Church World Service

A straggle of kids came up for children’s time at Poland Presbyterian Church, a 211-year-old congregation established on Lot One, in Township One, in Range One of what was once known as the Connecticut Western Reserve.

The church’s education minister asked them to do this year’s CROP Walk in nearby Youngstown. Two miles, five miles, whatever they can do to raise money for alleviating hunger.

“Seventeen million children will go to bed hungry in America tonight,” she explained.

Texts of Terror and Wealth

JEREMIAH IS OUR uncomfortable and discomfiting companion this month. He is a vehemently emotional man of God. Far from struggling to bring his emotion under control, he instead prays for more raw grief and anger. He knows that even his current rage and tears in no way match the scale of devastation wreaked by unfaithfulness to God’s covenant. “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (8:21 - 9:1). To be a prophet is to risk letting our hearts resonate with the feelings of God. Jeremiah might help us discern whether our own witness for justice has turned into something too rational, measured, even routine. How do we re-engage our hearts and derive our passion from God’s divine passion?

Luke’s deep concern to show Jesus’ prophesying against the toxicity of Mammon, the power games of the wealthy, is ablaze in the gospel readings. Perhaps those who read them to us in church should preface them with a warning along the lines of Bette Davis’ famous quip in All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”

Martin L. Smith was an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader when this article appeared.

[ September 1 ]
Entertaining Angels
Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

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On Scripture: Mary and Martha, Use Your Gifts — Whatever They May Be

Stained glass of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Photo courtesy Odyssey Networks.
Stained glass of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Photo courtesy Odyssey Networks.

It is a lovely late afternoon in the little village of Bethany on a hilltop outside Jerusalem. This is a delightful place to visit because it offers a breeze above the valley. But Jesus stops here often for more than that.  He knows he has friends in the persons of Martha and her siblings, Mary and Lazarus.

This day, as the family of Bethany looks down the road, they see Jesus and some of his disciples approaching. They know there will be time for conversation and food and rest before this group heads on into Jerusalem.

After a flurry of greetings, Martha is off to organize the meal. In a world without freezers or the possibility of takeout, unexpected guests can cause a bit of a stir.

 

From the Archives: April 1985

IN THE EARLY weeks of the Eastertide lectionary, there appears a series of texts from the third and fourth chapters of Acts ... Peter and John, on their way to temple prayers, heal a man begging at the beautiful gate. His joy begets a sermon from Peter on the resurrection, at the close of which the disciples are arrested and spend the night in jail. The next day in court they again testify boldly, refuse to comply with the court's order, and are released after calculated threats from the authorities. Their release prompts prayers of thanksgiving in the community.

It shouldn't be, but always is, a surprise that healing in the New Testament is cause for political trouble. It is for Jesus. His healings are carefully surveilled; they are the topic of elaborate "grand jury" investigations (John 9). More than eyebrows are raised; they conjure conflict and plottings against him. In John, it is the raising of Lazarus—the ultimate in healing miracles—that finally precipitates Jesus' arrest.

Why so? You'd almost be led to suspect that political authority rules by brokenness, infirmity, blindness, division, and by death itself. Authority over death would be an affront to any such rule.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann was a United Methodist pastor in Detroit and a Sojourners contributing editor when this article appeared.

Image: The stone being rolled away from the tomb, Cardens Design / Shutterstock.com

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The Juxtaposition of Death and Life, or Church on a Bike

Girl riding a bike, Michal Durinik / Shutterstock.com
Girl riding a bike, Michal Durinik / Shutterstock.com

“What? What happened?” My co-worker asked, sensing the solemn look on my face.
“Another patient died,” I reported. Grief and thick silence hang in the air as I thought back to the last time I saw this person, hospitalized, unable to speak, but for a brief moment our hands met in an embrace, and although he couldn’t speak, his demeanor and soft touch of the hand said it all.

I brought myself back to the present moment. It was the end of the work day and I strapped on my helmet to bike home, a Lenten commitment I’ve found to be incredibly rejuvenating.

I pedal past the housing projects and turn the corner around the city jail. Activists holding bright colored placards protest peacefully against the death penalty. I smile at them. “Keep up the good work!” I enthuse, giving them a thumbs up from my navy blue mitten and pedal on my way.
A second later, it hits me. Tears rush to my eyes but refuse to come out. The taut muscles in my throat contract; that familiar lump in which no words can come out, just expressions of the heart. Yes, it hit me.The juxtaposition and irony of it all. Life and death. One man died today from four letters that no one should ever have to die from, but globally, some 1.8 million do every year. Another man protested for the life of another to not be cut short before the redemption and healing and forgiveness began.

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