The Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 02, 2016
The Rev. Austin K Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Sometimes your whole life comes down to one moment—the metaphorical place where two roads diverge in a yellow wood.
A choice lies before us, turn right or left, go forward or go back—and the choice will determine so much about who we will be from that pivotal point onward.
Standing on the threshold of such a moment can be very scary, and often the magnitude of the moment threatens to overwhelm us.
I can almost see Jesus standing at the mouth of the darkened tomb, a blue Middle Eastern sky behind him, highlighting his slightly clenched fists; a shocking sky blue—the only color cutting through the long shadow of death lying within.
Does he go forward into the tomb, and initiate the final battle against the powers of death—a struggle that can only be won through his own losing?
Or does he back away to remain in the blue light, and return to the place where the crowds keep growing and the life and power keep flowing?
His eyes brimming with tears, his heart and face set, Jesus chose the road less traveled, and called his brother Lazarus into the light, thus beginning his long march into the very heart of darkness.
For the last three weeks, we have been hearing these long personal encounters between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, between Jesus and the man born blind, and now between Jesus and his close friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
The Gospel of John has been making a steady case that Jesus is the light of the world, and that true life and wholeness comes through believing in him— the Word of God from whom all creation came into being.
The tale of Lazarus’ being raised from the dead composes the exact centerpiece of the Gospel—a scene straddling the two halves of the narrative—and Martha’s confession of faith the fulcrum.
Jesus has been doing signs in public, discussing theology with symbolic figures in the various communities of his day, and has been speaking about his role in bridging the divide between heaven and earth.
After Lazarus comes out of that gaping maw of a tomb, still wrapped like an ancient mummy, Jesus begins to withdraw from the crowds and focus on preparing his closest disciples for the rigors of the road he will walk—the hell he will confront.
That road is hard, and it is long…but eventually it leads to the light.
In fact, Jesus now begins walking the negative path of stripping down to the core of his being, which is a road we are called to walk with him throughout the next two weeks.
If the light that has come into the world must shine in the darkness, and not be overcome by it, then it must boldly go where the deepest darkness dwells.
Death must be conquered once and for all, and resurrection must go from existing as a hopeful concept to becoming fundamental reality.
That is one of the key dynamics in this story about Lazarus’ being raised from the dead.
Jesus tells Martha that her brother will be raised from the dead, and she responds in a way that sound like a she’s repeating words she learned in the synagogue as a young girl.
Yes, I know he will rise again on the last day, Jesus.
But Jesus soon takes these self-soothing, but unrealized words of Martha and puts her to a decision, claiming that now is the moment of resurrection, because he is resurrection and life itself.
“Do you believe this Martha?”
Do you believe that all your religious instruction, all your thoughts and wonderings about God and the universe, all your life boils down to this moment, and whether or not you choose to embrace the life and resurrection that is right in front of you, or keep putting it off in the distant future?
Please hear me.
Human grief and emotion over loss is natural and not in any way a barrier in itself to resurrection.
Martha, Mary and Jesus all shed tears over the death of their brother—real tears that come as the consequence of real love.
But even in the midst of such grief and darkness, we are called to look to the light and know in our core that death is never the end.
The hardest part is that the words are not enough.
Unless you have known death, and known what it means to be called out of the darkness into the light, then resurrection is nothing but a concept, or perhaps just a future aspiration.
Resurrection is something that has to be experienced to be believed—ask the Samaritan woman, ask the man blind from birth, ask Martha, ask Mary and ask Lazarus.
Or better yet, bind yourself to resurrection today, and give thanks to God for the times in your life in which you were dead, but now live due to the grace and power of God.
If you know what it means to live again, when you thought death’s grasp upon you was unbreakable, then you must testify to the truth for those who haven’t yet experienced it.
And like those bystanders who witnessed Jesus calling a dead man to walk into the blue light of day, it is your job to assist in the resurrection of others by unbinding them from the remnants of death’s dominion.
For Lazarus that remnant was the four day old funeral wrappings, but for so many others, the ties take other forms—from the physical, to the emotional, to the spiritual.
Jesus came to proclaim release to the captives, and to offer freedom to all who believe in his name.
Believing means walking the road he walks, not just a mental assent, and it means doing the things that he does to the best of our ability.
Now. Because there is not a moment to waste.
We’ve been with Jesus in the wilderness and in the Gospel of John for this season of Lent, and as we go forth from the tomb with Lazarus today, we are being invited to make the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus.
Our Palm Sunday service next week, and all the services of Holy Week are the primary way we enter that story liturgically.
But most importantly, each of us stands on the precipice of our own decision today, and anytime we awake to the reality that the light of the world is standing before our tomb and calling us forward.
Do we believe in resurrection or not?
If we do, how do we live it, and how do we help others live it?
Jesus goes to Jerusalem knowing full well that there are powerful interests and forces that would rather profit from death and the darkness, than come to the light and live as children of God.
There is an entire world out there for whom resurrection isn’t real, and in some hard cases, that is actively opposed to it.
But for those of us who’ve experienced it firsthand—for the characters in John’s Gospel, for Lazarus and for Mary and Martha and the disciples, nothing in this world, or out of it, is more real.
Now is the time to believe in it…now is the time to embrace it…now is the time to share it and extend it to those still in the grips of death’s shadow.
Now. Not on the last day.
Jesus is framed in blue, calling from the mouth of the grave.
Will you rise up and follow him, even though the journey will be hard?
If so, you will find life, and no amount of death, neither great nor small, can ever take it away from you.