Do we believe that God has the power to bring the dead back to life?
Do we believe that, as God’s incarnate son, Jesus has that same power?
Do we believe that God, working as the Holy Spirit, still has the power to bring us to resurrection?
The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead (John11:1-45) is the third time in a row when Sunday’s gospel lesson exhibits not only John’s verbosity but more importantly his exquisite ability to tell a story. It’s beautiful. Yes, it’s long, but read it aloud. And then read it again. It’s an amazing story. But I wonder whether it’s lost its power.
What does it mean to hear that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Biblical scholars will point out that this is a climax in a series of miracles that show Jesus’ power. This is the pinnacle of his messianic identity. As God’s anointed, he has the ability to do what only God alone can do—bring back the dead. Preachers will talk about Jesus’ prefigurment of his own resurrection through the raising of Lazarus—that this shows us a little bit of what’s coming up. I’m sure they’re both right, but I want to hear what Lazarus means for today.
Lazarus isn’t raised to the new life. He comes from the tomb but one day—we aren’t ever told when—dies again. And that second time he has to wait until everyone comes back. If this is merely a story of Jesus’ power to someday bring us back or a foreshadowing of what will happen to him, it isn’t good enough. I believe this story is about more than that. I want the power of this resurrection to break through in this life because I believe that the power of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t limited to a someday reality. It’s about transformation here and now.
What is it that binds us? What is it that buries us? The answer is different for all of us. Sin might be a summary term, but I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense of “bad deeds.” I mean it in terms of “all that isn’t right with the world.” It’s hunger for hungry people. It’s recovery for addicts. It’s freedom for those who hide in shame. It’s peace for the anxious. It’s reconciliation for the estranged. It’s all of that and more.
What is it that entombs us? Death will someday, but many of us are already dead. We walk through this life but are actually hidden in a tomb, bound in strips of cloth, desperate to be called out. “Lazarus, Come out!” Jesus commands the dead man. How does he say that to us today—not someday but now? “Unbind him and let him go!” Jesus commands those who are watching. How does he say that to us today—to those of us who have imprisoned others in the chains of expectation? How is he calling us to be reborn? How is he calling us to participate in the loosing of others from deathly bonds?