[Easter sermon 4.2017]
Happy Easter everyone! Today is the High Holiday in the Christian church. More important than Christmas, the church today celebrates that our God is alive. That JC, who died in our place, has returned to life. And, now He invites us to follow Him in an empowered life that will never end.
The resurrection is something we teach our kids about. In our home, we regularly read from a Childrens Bible, and discuss the stories together. And so, naturally we read the account of Easter. In a kids Bible we see elements of the resurrection story. It tells us that JC died, was buried, rose to life again, and appeared to many. This is the gospel of JC in its simplest form. This is the good news, that our God, JC, has come to life again. It’s a message that our kids know well.
This is a different Easter for me personally. This is the 1st Easter w/o my mom. She passed away in December after a battle w/ cancer. And so on a day that we celebrate life, I am reminded of death. Death is close, as I reflect on life today. It was interesting back in December during my mother’s memorial service. We were sitting in the front of the church, and my wife K8 was holding our 3-year-old son, Silas. And she began to cry. And Silas, having heard the Easter story from the children’s Bible many, many times, said to K8: Don’t worry mom, Grandma will come to life again. Wow! So what do you do w/ that? It is something I believe, and I am proud of my son for seeing the connection b/t his children’s Bible and the death of my mom. But when loss of any kind is close, sometimes you feel a disconnect b/t your heart and your mind. You conceptually hold a belief in your mind, and repeat all the right answers, but your heart is heavy. Your heart feels like you are wearing a heavy, wet, and soggy coat. A heavy heart sticks to you. It weighs you down, and it makes you cold. Can you relate to what I am feeling today? As you celebrate today, are YOU wearing a soggy coat, a wet coat of lost hopes, or lost relationships, or lost loved ones? The problem w/ celebrating life today on Easter morning, is that we see and feel death on us. We put on death clothes, if you will. So, what do you do w/ that?
Part of my meditations for this morning brought me to the 11th chapter of John’s gospel. If you allow yourself to imagine the feelings of this text, I think you will find some connections to what we are talking about. John 11 finds JC in the height of His public ministry. At this point, JC is known for His awesome work and message. Allow me to read John 11, and as I do so, allow yourself to feel the emotions of the text. It says:
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [v. 3] So the sisters sent word to Jesus: Lord, the one you love is sick.
These sisters are worried. They see their brother declining, and so, they anxiously reach out to their friend, JC, the One they know can heal him.
4 When he heard this, Jesus said: This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for Gods glory so that Gods Son may be glorified through it. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,
JC loves this family so much that He decides NOT to rush to help, NOT to quickly answer their helpless prayers. No, He waits. And I bet you can feel what these sisters were feeling. Their hearts were gaining weight by the minute as they waited for JC, as they waited for the One they knew could heal.
7 and then [after a couple days] Jesus said to his disciples: Let us go back to Judea. [v.11] After he had said this, he went on to tell them: Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up. 12 His disciples replied: Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better. 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly: Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.
And so reading between the lines, we learn that during those 2 long days Lazarus’ condition worsened, and he died. His sisters’ hopes are dashed; disappointment overshadows any hope they held. They experienced the shock of loss, not believing it was real. They may have felt anger toward JC for not answering their call. And then they literally put death clothes on Lazarus, wrapping strips of linen around his face, feet and hands. And as they put on his death clothes, the sisters put on their own. THEY put on a wet, soggy coat of grief and loss, just like the ones we wear. I have felt those emotions this season – anger, disappointment for lost opportunities, and deep sadness. The problem for many of us is that we see and feel death, even as we conceptually celebrate life today.
v. 17: On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
Here we see our shared humanity w/ those in the text. We too offer sympathy for loss. We tell others that JC is here, even if the things they lost are not.
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
I wonder why Mary stayed? Maybe she was angry, or too upset to leave the house. Either way, we can feel the weight that kept Mary home. But Martha went.
21 Lord, Martha said to Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. 23 Jesus said to her: Your brother will rise again. 24 Martha answered: I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Martha recites the proper Sunday school answer here. Resurrection in the Jewish mind was traditionally seen as the first sign of the restoration of God’s people. So Martha’s response to JC suggests that she is not asking JC to raise her brother from the dead in that moment, but is rather expressing her belief that God will eventually restore His kingdom and its people. She is correct, as we will see. But in this moment she is locating her hope of Gods fulfillment in a conceptual future. She is reciting the proper Sunday school answer of the day. It is the same answer we offer fellow believers in times of grief, and it is something we believe and profess and teach our kids. We dust off the doctrines that have been sitting on dusty shelves, and we package them in nice answers. “Your loved is in a better place.” “God is probably protecting you from something, or teaching you something.” “Maybe God has something better in store for you than that thing you were hoping in” We believe these things, but we can also feel the weight on hearts. We feel the sogginess of the coats we wear. We feel Marthas heart here; Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. She is wrestling w/ the disconnect of conceptually holding and correctly professing a belief, but doing so w/ a heavy heart. She tells JC as much as herself that she knows her brother will rise again in the resurrection of the last day. It’s the correct answer, but JC replies w/ something that vividly colors in the simple outline of that conceptual belief.
25 Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
JC does something phenomenal here. He takes the correct Sunday school answer away from the dusty shelves of conceptual doctrine and He relocates it. JC takes that conceptual belief and relocates it to its proper place. In this moment, JC locates the resurrection squarely on Himself. He does not say: “I raise the dead,” or “I perform the resurrection.” He says: “I AM the resurrection.” HE is where life is located. HE is where hope is located. HE is the location of resurrection. It is not in some conceptual belief, orbiting the earth; life is located right here in front of us, in the person in front of Martha, and this life is not affected by death. JC does something phenomenal here. He takes the emotions of the moment and the proper Sunday school answer and aligns them to Himself.
[JC then asks] Do you believe this? 27 Yes, Lord, she replied, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.
I can imagine at this moment that something began to stir in Martha’s heart. She was still wearing her death clothes, her soggy coat, but I believe something was lifting in her heart, and I believe she wanted share that lifting w/ her sister.
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. The Teacher is here, she said, and is asking for you. 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. [v. 32] When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
It’s the same reply that her sister gave JC. They must have shared this sentiment together during those 4 long days.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 Where have you laid him? he asked.
Here we see JC not dialoging w/ a proper concept, but dialoging w/ Mary’s heart. He feels Mary’s emotion and asks where they have laid His friend.
Come and see, Lord, they replied. 35 [And] Jesus wept.
The Lord of heaven and earth weeps w/ His friends. How do you suppose that resonated w/ Mary and Martha’s heavy hearts? Rather then giving them some cliché reason for loss, JC is simply WITH them. I know one of the most encouraging things during my mom’s memorial was seeing a couple friends drive a great distance, just so they could BE there w/ me. They did not say much; they were simply WITH us And so I agree w/ those in the text, when it says: 36 Then the Jews said, See how he loved him! JC puts on OUR heavy, wet, and soggy coats and weeps WITH us.
37 But some of them [Like us] said: Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? 38 [Then] Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 Take away the stone, he said. But, Lord, said Martha, the sister of the dead man, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days. 40 Then Jesus said: Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?
Lazarus was already 4 days in the tomb when JC arrives, and Martha is worried about the smell of the now decaying body. But despite her warnings, the tomb is opened. v. 41 says: So they took away the stone. And we read that JC immediately offered a prayer of thanksgiving. There was no smell.
Then Jesus looked up and said: Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me. 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice: Lazarus, come out! 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Lazarus is alive! Imagine the shock and disbelief of Martha and Mary. Their hearts were no longer heavy, but frozen.
And I envision JC, still weeping, but now w/ a smile as He said to them in v. 44: Take off the grave clothes and let him go. Take off the grave clothes and let him go. Imagine the emotions of this scene. The Lord of heaven and earth reveals His power and glory here. He displays His authority over creation. He shows off His love for His people. And He commands them to cut the burial linens away from His friend, freeing Him. Lazarus is alive! Imagine how Martha and Mary’s hands trembled as they unwrapped their living brother from the weight of his death clothes. As these sisters did this, they also took off the weight of their own wet, soggy coats of death. In this moment, JC shows His cards. He reveals to us the realities of His kingdom. He is the Lord of life, and when He is King life is realized, hearts are lifted, brokenness is repaired, and burial linens are cut off.
The good news of Easter is as simple as the children’s Bible says – that JC died for our wrong doings, that He was buried , that He conquered death and rose to life again, and appeared to many, and now He invites us into eternal life w/ Him. The good news of Easter is that there is life in JC. Life is located in Him.
But if you are like me today, there is a disconnect. There is a disconnect b/t these truths and the reality of our hearts. The problem as we celebrate life today is that we see and feel death, as if we are wearing a heavy, wet, and soggy coat. So what do we do w/ that? What do we do w/ that disconnect? I do not think some pat, clichéd answer is what will heal us. So I am not going to quickly say: His pain was your gain. I believe that is true, but is not what will heal you. This morning as we celebrate life, the resurrected life of our living God, I would rather have us focus our often tear filled eyes to the actual location of life. I would have us look squarely at JC Himself. Healing only happens at the location. Life is located in JC Himself and nowhere else.
My heart is heavy like a soggy coat this morning, but my son Silas is right. He said: Don’t worry mom, Grandma will come to life again, and he is right. He is right b/c there IS life in JC. There IS life in JC today and in the age to come. Yes, my heart is heavy today. But something is stirring w/ in me as we direct our focus away from the correct clichés, and instead look at JC Himself. To the very face of death and loss, JC said: Come out! And the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. And then to the living man, JC said: Take off the grave clothes and GO. I believe JC is looking at you square in the face today and is saying these words to you: Take off the grave clothes and GO. Take off the soggy coat.
My prayer is that you would hear the words of JC in the depths of your heart today. And that w/ lighter, now drying shoulders you would focus your eyes to the proper location of life. He says: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 11:22). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, pp. 202–203). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.