Fifth Sunday in Lent John 11:1-45

Jesus wept when he heard of the death of Lazarus. In John’s Gospel, the miracle of his returning to life led directly to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.  The chief priests and Pharisees were afraid too many people would believe in him and Jesus would establish a kingdom.

And the ensuing revolt against Rome would lead to national disaster. Therefore, he should be silenced.  God visited this world in a Jewish rabbi who fell into disfavor with the authorities, and he died for what he said and did.

We can imagine God on the doorstep of heaven waving goodbye to his son. John writes story after story of God’s concern and patience and love for us.

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus is himself the new wine. On the hillside, he is himself the bread of life for a great many –old, young, men, women, children, disciples, strangers, no-accounts, deadbeats, people of power.

He brought healing to the sick, sight to the blind, until everybody wanted to know, “How long will you keep us in suspense?

“If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” He replied, “The works I do in my father’s name tell who I am.”  The authorities were on edge, uncertain.  If he was the Messiah, he might try to overthrow Roman rule.  After all, he talked about the kingdom of his father.  The Jews wanted him arrested.  He stayed out of sight until he heard that Lazarus had died.  He delayed a couple of days, as though he was not able to face his own grief.

Then he went to Bethany, and Jesus wept when the sisters told him of their brother’s death. Here was Jesus Christ, the blood and bone which God had materialized himself into on that unimaginable journey from heaven to Mary’s womb in Bethlehem.

At Bethany where he finally had to confront grief, Jesus wept because Lazarus was a good friend. He was the kind of friend with whom you go in and shut the door and spill out everything you’re keeping deep inside..

Jesus had upset the authorities. He was hassled and anxious with the worry beginning to show in line on his face and sadness in his eyes.  God might have appointed a whole team of supporters and aides for Jesus on his difficult mission, but instead the rabbi from Nazareth had a friend whose loss meant so much that he wept.  The son of the God who called Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the son of the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land – wept tears over the death of a friend.

Does that say something to us about God’s understanding when we come to the end of the road and simply sit down and cry?. Would you feel safe dealing with a man so strong, so secure about himself, that he was able to cry at the loss of a friend?

Would you be willing to let this man share your tears at your loss, your grief, your pains? Would you be afraid that the man who cried over Lazarus would not understand?  He was also full of divine power, no less than he was full of human feeling and understanding.

Yet, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Jesus was human, as well as God.

The stone was taken away. Jesus called Lazarus dead for four days. Now the crowd was certain that Jesus was Messiah.  All the other miracles might be explained away, such as the centurions’ son would have recovered anyway.

Or the man born blind hadn’t really been all that blind, and now he was just acting a little braver about walking where he couldn’t see. Or maybe the loaves and fishes had been in people’s lunch baskets all the time and when Jesus said grace, they all shared with each other.  But there was no way to explain away the raising of Lazarus.  Some would not believe God was at work in Jesus Christ. Well-intentioned people went to the Pharisees and warned them, that this man might be Messiah.

They were afraid that if everyone believed in him, the Romans would come and destroy their nation. They looked for a way to stop his talk about God’s kingdom.  Precisely because of his power over death, Jesus, the loving Word of God, Jesus who could weep over the loss of a friend, Jesus who saw himself as a ransom for many – is viewed as a threat.  If we admit who Jesus is, then we’ll open the door to all kinds of unexpected consequences.

If we believe him, then we will have to keep on changing the way we live. The Pharisees would say, “If he were God, then he wouldn’t sit down and cry, or visit ordinary people like Mary and Mart ha, or attract those smelly fishermen.

“This man cannot be from God.  He’s a troublemaker, a revolutionary, an imposter.”  They dismissed him because their ideas of God had become their idols, and they would much rather worship those idols than deal with a here and now God so real that he wept  over his loss before he used his power to restore.  Luther teaches us that idolatry does not always consist of erecting an image such as a fertility symbol or statue.  The breaking of the first commandment is primarily in the heart when we pursue ungodly aims and make those our idols.  The Pharisees had made an idol of the idea about God that they had locked away.

They were so blinded by their past that they could not see God in the present, in the flesh, standing there. The high priest tried to avoid war with Rome by making Christ a sacrificial lamb.  Didn’t work.  The Romans attacked Jerusalem a few years later and leveled the ground where the Temple stood.

The Lazarus story tells us Jesus was crucified because he was a revolutionary, even though he preached the Gospel of God’s love. He was put to death because he was not welcomed by the power structure.  He came into his own home, and his own people received him not.  But have we welcomed him when our tears have watered our trembling feet?

Have we not seen him make our own faint hearts strong and raise us as though from the dead when we were sure everything was lost? Then we ask forgiveness from God when we try to avoid following his leadership regardless of personal cost and consequences.

It takes effort, concern, caring, thoughtful action, and often takes gifts of money and time and personal effort to follow the loving Christ and bring his kingdom of mercy and grace into this world. If he is the Son of God, then we have our work cut out.  Nothing is more important than to learn what he wants us to do, and to go and do it.

He says to each of us, “Come, follow me.”

He who wept at the tomb of a friend is the kind of friend we need. He who raised his friend from the dead is able to give new life to us.

He is open, vulnerable, available to us. We can have hope in him.  For in him and by his power, we can discover the joy of intimate fellowship with God, the God who created the whole vast universe – stars, suns, planets, and us.

He sent himself, gave himself to our world. Since he died for us, then we must live for him.

He alone has the words of eternal life.