Text: John 11: 1-45
In the Harry Potter novels the wizard Albus Dumbeldore has a familiar or pet phoenix. The phoenix is a powerful creature and it is not unique to the Harry Potter books. We can find references to the phoenix going back to the Greek historian Herodotus, some 500 years before Christ was born. The power of the phoenix is that it can come back to life after it dies. It rises from its own ashes and returns to life.
A quick search on the Internet reveals that there are well over a hundred references to the phoenix in literature, music, television, film, mascots and games. The idea of coming back, having a second chance is a powerful motif. The legend or story of the phoenix is one of resurrection.
While researching resurrection in popular culture I discovered the following poem:
When I die,
I’ll get buried.
And like buried seeds,
I’ll sprout back some day.
~ Resurrection, Abraham Dicey Jones
What drew me to this poem is its focus on renewal. That resurrection means something for the future. However, the poem does not assume a sense of immediacy, only of recognition that one day I’ll sprout back. It is grounded in the reality of death with the promise of resurrection.
Resurrection is key to our understanding of God’s plan for creation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning is one of our central confessions of faith. That Christ has died, Christ is risen and that Christ will come again. We understand who we are and what we are called to be as God’s people through the lens of the resurrection.
A restored creation is only possible through the resurrection. Only in this way can all things be made new, can barriers be broken down and new life be entered into. Our passage today from John’s gospel is a story of resurrection. The resurrection of Lazarus which points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the final nail in the coffin of death.
The resurrection of Lazarus is an important passage. It deals with the themes of friendship, trust, love, faith, grief and understanding. Not surprisingly the passage on the resurrection of Lazarus is found in the middle of John’s gospel. It serves as a pivot within the narrative that now squarely points us towards the events of Easter.
This morning we heard from John 11. There are 10 chapters before and 10 chapters come afterwards.
In the first half of John’s gospel our focus is on the descent of the living Word in the world. The ministry of Jesus is public, available for all to see. The main topics are light and life, appearing 82 times as opposed to only 6 times in later chapters.
In later part of the gospel the shift is towards the disciples. There are no more signs and the topic is love, mentioned 31 times, but only 6 times in the first half. What we witness is Jesus descending from the Father and then returning to the Father. A coming down and a going up (Working Preacher).
Our passage today which deals with the raising of Lazarus is pivot between the public and private ministry of the disciples. The death and resurrection of Lazarus is a direct foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection.
We see many other parallels in our passage this morning. Mary’s confession, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” mirrors the confession we find in John 1 which is made by Nathanael who says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
More than anything else our passage about salvation and it holds perhaps one of the most poignant lines in all of scripture. “Jesus wept.”
It reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, that seeing the grief being poured out around him, he too was moved to weep. And Jesus provides a sign for us, the stone is moved away and he calls Lazarus to come out. And word spreads, life has been given.
We don’t understand it. We don’t know why Jesus waited, yes people were trying to kill him, but he waited. We don’t know why, but we do see the result: life. The story of Lazarus is a story about resurrection.
The passage we have today and the passages we have been looking at from John’s gospel over these past weeks of Lent have a common theme. They are all passages about resurrection. The are all resurrection stories.
The woman at the well. Who after her encounter with Jesus believes that he is the Messiah. She gains a new lease on life and many new followers come to Jesus because of her testimony.
The man born blind, who is healed by Jesus, gains a new lease on life. Now he can see, not just physically, but he sees the truth which is before him that Jesus is the son of God.
Each of these is a resurrection story. This is what we are called to share in our own lives. This is what we are called to witness to, resurrection in our own lives. Resurrection of our faith, in our church, in our families, in our communities, in our country. Resurrection for the world.
Resurrection is not just something we believe; it is something we experience. When you experience resurrection, you start to feel resurrected. NT Wright explains resurrection like this, “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.”
? N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
Resurrection is the beginning of something new. Something new that God did in creation. Resurrection represents our relationship with God. It is personal and it is powerful.
We confess in the Apostles Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. That a day will come when all will be new. When there will be a new heaven and a new earth. That is a day yet to come, a hope we hold dear to our hearts. But resurrection is felt when relationships are mended, when walls are torn down, when we meet one another with an embrace.
Jesus calls out to Lazarus. He calls Lazarus by name. Jesus calls us by name.
Resurrection is Jesus calling us out of the darkness of our own tombs, sharing a meal with him. Leaning against him, acknowledging that there are moments when he carries us. Resurrection is when life and love blossoms within us. When we take action which is life giving, when we offer God’s love and grace in all we do.
I encourage you to be resurrection people. Amen.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
~ Death be not Proud, John Donne