Jesus, the Resurrection
Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 2nd/3rd, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Spring is in the air. Finally. Maybe. You can never quite tell in Michigan, can you? One day it’s sunny and beautiful, the next it’s snowing and sleeting. But regardless of what’s going on with the weather, we have turned the calendar to April. Every morning when I get dressed I can hear the sound of birds chirping outside my window. The days are getting longer. March Madness is almost over, baseball season is here. But the surest sign that warmer days are ahead is the return of the construction barrel, that ubiquitous orange decoration that frustrates drivers across the state from the first thaw until the winter chill returns at the end of next fall. Yes, construction season has returned, so get ready for some detours. The barrels are already out on Garfield, and I hear Schoenherr between 15 and 16 Mile roads will get torn up too, not to mention the major closure on I-75 South between Detroit and Downriver. If you are headed in those directions, better plan on being rerouted.
Today’s Gospel reading tells of a rerouting of sorts. It tells of a detour. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be greeted by throngs of people waving palm branches as he enters the city riding on the colt of a donkey. But that’s the reading for next week. Before we reach the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday, we take a slight detour and visit the cemetery. This detour might have taken us to the deathbed of a dying Lazarus, but as you just heard in the reading a few moments ago, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, he waited for two full days before going to him. We visit a cemetery instead of a hospital bed because Jesus waited. He waited for Lazarus to die.
When He finally arrived, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, greeted him with the following words: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus had a reputation for miraculous healing. That’s why crowds of people would bring their sick loved one to Jesus. Martha knows Jesus healed a veritable army of strangers, but when his friend is deathly ill, he doesn’t drop everything and rush to heal him? Why in the world would Jesus wait? Why would he do that to her? In her grief she comes out and accuses Jesus of being responsible for her pain. “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died. If you wouldn’t have forgotten about Lazarus, if you would’ve only gotten here on time, when I told you to be here, then my brother would be alive, and I wouldn’t be hurting.”
Jesus comforts her by reminding her, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha admits knows that Lazarus will be raised on the last day. But that offers little comfort to her right now. Right here and now, Lazarus is still dead. This isn’t what Martha had in mind at all. This isn’t how Martha planned it. This isn’t what her life was supposed to be. So Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection. I am the Life. I may not have been here on your time table, but I am here now, here in my time, here for you.” But Martha didn’t understand. What Martha wanted was for Jesus to have healed her brother and protected her from feeling grief. But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus had something else in mind.
Lazarus’s other sister Mary also greeted Jesus, much in the same way as her sister Martha. She also tells Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And then she breaks down into tears, overrun with grief at the death of her brother. Jesus, seeing her grief, weeps with her. The sadness and grief he feels is evident by his own reaction to the situation. But some of those who had gathered at the tomb saw Jesus weeping and said, “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying? Couldn’t he have prevented this pain?” From their perspective, Jesus is to blame for this pain. Jesus should have done something to keep Lazarus from dying. Then Mary and Martha wouldn’t have to experience the terrible grief of losing a family member. Then Mary and Martha would know that Jesus loved them, if he shielded them from the hurts and afflictions of this life. But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus had something else in mind.
It’s in the words of Jesus that we see what that “something else” was. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Resurrection. Now there’s a loaded word. For while resurrection certainly calls to mind images of life, in order for there to be a resurrection there must first be a death. If there is no death, there can be no resurrection. When Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life,” what he is also saying in these words is “I bring death.”
“How can Jesus bring death?” you may be asking yourself. “Didn’t Jesus tell us that he came in order that we, his sheep, may have life, and have it abundantly? How can Jesus bring death?” And yet we’re left to meditate on what Jesus really said, not just on what we wish he would have said. “I am the resurrection,” he said. Jesus brings death. Jesus brought death to Lazarus. He waited to go to the house until Lazarus had died. But death doesn’t get the last word because Jesus doesn’t bring death to just Lazarus. Remember, this stopover at the tomb of Lazarus is nothing more than a detour on Jesus’ journey to his own tomb. Don’t forget where Jesus goes when he leaves Mary, Martha, and their resurrected brother. Think of where this road is taking him, from Bethany to Jerusalem: to Palm Sunday, to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and the cross.
“Hosanna!” the people will shout when he arrives in Jerusalem, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Have mercy on us. Save us!” And save them he will, but not in the way that they expect. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Behold, the perfect sacrifice, bloodied and dead under the judgment our sins deserve. Behold, he who is the resurrection and the life. But for there to be resurrection, there must be death first.
All too often, we too would have Jesus simply protect us from our daily pain and affliction. Like Mary and Martha, we look at the problems and hurt in our lives and say, “Lord, you could have prevented this! Why did you let this happen to me? Where were you?” We look at Jesus as the one to deliver us from financial or emotional difficulties, to heal our earthly infirmities or cure our cancer. To make everything right and comfortable and to put things just the way we want them. We cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me where I tell you to, where I think I need it.” But Jesus has something else in mind, something greater.
Jesus didn’t take on human flesh in order to make us comfortable or to give us what we think we want. He didn’t come to make us only feel better for a little while. He came with the true cure. He came to make us his own. He didn’t come to put a band-aid on our sinfulness. He came to kill it, to crucify it with himself on the cross. If anyone would follow him, let him take up his own cross. “Or don’t you know, all of you who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?” The road from Bethany to Jerusalem, like all roads in the life of Christ, leads to death. The entire journey of Lent is a journey of death, a journey of repentance where our old Adam daily drowns and dies, along with all sins and evil desires, and a new man arises to live before God in righteousness and purity for ever.
Jesus is not impressed with our perception of the problems in our lives; he knows what the true problem is: sin. That is why he came. That is why he went to Jerusalem. That is why he lived. That is why he died. There were no construction barrels that could keep our Lord from reaching his destination. There was nothing that was going to keep him from reaching the cross. He didn’t come to give us what we want. He came to give us what we need.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. He came to earth, took human flesh, and traveled to Jerusalem for one reason: to die and rise again. And through our baptism we too die with him there. But death is not the final word; Jesus is the resurrection. And Jesus is not only the resurrection, he is our resurrection. He is your resurrection. Now we live in our baptism, living in repentance, dying to our sinful flesh, united to Christ in his resurrection. The resurrection lives within us. Christ lives within us. Jesus did not give Mary and Martha a temporary solution or quick fix. Jesus came to bring true life and true freedom, the life and freedom which can only be had through death . . . and resurrection. Such is your life as a child of God, a life of death and resurrection. So live as the children of God you truly are! Repent! and die to your sins. Repent! and be made alive in him who is the resurrection and the life. Repent! and live in Christ, never to die again.