Lazarus; Jesus Bursting into Tears
Lent 5A John
(Also, for All Saints Sunday, Series B)
It is really tough
when your best friend dies. When your good buddy dies. When your
best friend dies too soon. Cancer. Heart attack. Car accident. Many of you have lost
your best friend and it has left you devastated. We all know those
stories. We may have lived that story when a close friend of our
I have permission
of the family to share the following comments. I remember when my
good buddy Ray Osterloh died so many years ago. It seems like
yesterday. Up there at Providence Hospital. There on the third
floor. For so long. For so many weeks. With so many people coming to
visit him. With his wife, Jan and two young sons, I watched Ray
wither away and die. It was painful for him. It was painful for his
family. And it was painful for all of us who knew and loved Ray. I
remember his last words to me, “Make sure you tell them Ed.” I
responded, “Tell them about what Ray?” He said, “Jesus.”
Wow, how do you forget that? How do you forget that man? How do you
forget that friendship?” It was a tough funeral too. The feelings
ran deep for all of us. Yes,
there wasn’t a lot of sniffling that day but some deep sobs of
remembrance and regret.
The gospel story
for today is that kind of story. Jesus’ best friend or one of his
best friends had died. The feelings were running deep.
There are four
primary characters in this story:
Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
Martha, Mary and Lazarus were good friends of Jesus; the
Bible says that he “loved” them.
They were the kind of good friends that you could drop over
to their house, kick up your feet and just relax with, and Jesus
seemed to visit their home often.
They were intimate and familiar friends with Jesus.
We know the Martha
and Mary story. Jesus came to visit their home one day and Martha, the home
owner and perhaps the oldest sister, was very busy. She was
scurrying about, getting the meal ready for Jesus while Mary sat
relaxed at Jesus’ feet, wanting to listen to him teach.
Martha reprimanded her younger sister for not helping her
with the food preparation. Jesus suggested that quiet Mary had
chosen the better part, and scolded busy Martha for being too busy
being busy. So we pick
up on the dynamics of their relationship, an honesty, a repartee.
Then there is the other story where Jesus was again visiting
their home, and in this story, sensitive Mary anoints Jesus’ feet
with oil and then dries his feet with her long hair with loving and
gentle kindness. The Bible says that she was preparing him for his
burial. So we are aware
of these stories about busy Martha and tender Mary, both dear
friends of Jesus.
sister’s brother, was also Jesus’ close friend, the only close
friend that is reported in the Bible, other than with John.
The Bible says that Jesus “loved” Lazarus.
Jesus was about thirty years old, and my guess is that
Lazarus was about his age. In other words, for me this is a story of having one of your
closest buddies die, like when my good friend, Ray Osterloh, died of
cancer while a very young man.
I know and you know what it feels like to have a close buddy,
a close friend die, and the story of Lazarus’ death is like that.
The funeral rituals
of Jesus’ day were obviously different than ours.
When somebody died, there was no embalming but immediately
the body was wrapped in linen clothing and put into the burial
vault, a limestone cave carved into the limestone rock. There was
intense mourning for seven days and less intense mourning for
twenty-three more days. But
the first seven days were days of intense grief and crying.
Now, here is the
story for today. It’s a classic story, with classic drama.
Lazarus was really sick and the two sisters sent word to
Jesus, who had just healed a man born blind, that their brother
Lazarus was very sick and perhaps soon to die.
Jesus got the message and waited two days. Why did Jesus wait
two days? All the
commentaries argue as to why Jesus waited two days, but none agree.
The Bible says simply so that the will of God may be done.
So Jesus began his way to the home of Lazarus, knowing that
his friend had died.
On the way,
assertive, aggressive, “take charge” Martha came out to meet
Jesus and gave him an angry earful. “Jesus, if you would have been here, my brother would not
have died.” Jesus said: “He
will rise again.” And
Martha testily responded: “I
know he will rise again at the resurrection of the dead, but what
good does that do us now?” Then
Jesus gave a word that has become one of the most treasured
teachings of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever lives and believes in me will never
die!” Will never die!
It is one of the great lines of the Bible.
Then he asked one of the most important questions found in
the Bible, “Do you
believe this, Martha?” What
a question. Do you
believe this? Do
YOU believe this? That
whoever lives and believes in me will never
die? Martha answered, “I believe.
I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God
and that whoever lives and believes in you will never die.” That is an incredible conversation, and we could stop here
but the story continues.
Martha went back
home to find her younger sister and told her that Jesus wanted to
talk with her. Mary
left immediately, surrounded by her grieving friends, to find Jesus.
She too approached Jesus with the same testy reproach,
“Jesus, if you would have been here, my brother would not have
died.” But before Jesus could say anything, Mary burst into tears
and so did all her grieving friends.
What was Jesus’ response to her tears?
The Bible says that he was “deeply troubled,” but the
Greek word underlying this says that Jesus “shuddered
with sadness,” that his body shook
with emotion. The
word in classical Greek is used to refer to a horse, when it snorts,
the horse’s whole body shakes, and so Jesus’ whole body shook or shuddered with emotion.
You and I have experienced this often in life, where a person
is so grieved and sad, that their whole body shakes with sorrow.
Then came that classic line, the shortest verse in the Bible.
“Jesus wept.” In our antiseptic way, we imagine a single tear running down
his face. Rather, the
Greek suggests, Jesus “burst
into tears.” So here,
in this little episode with sensitive Mary, there is no classic,
eloquent teaching about eternal life. In fact, there are no words at
all, but simply strong emotions and bursting tears that shake his
Within that Greek
word for “shudders with sadness,” there is a connotation of
anger, that Jesus was angry about something, and the scholars in the
commentaries ponder what Jesus was angry about.
I know what Jesus was angry about:
he was angry that Lazarus died too soon, too young, that it
hurt inside. I knew
those feelings of anger when my good friend, Ray, died too young and
too soon. I was mad,
really mad inside. You
know those feelings from your experiences as well.
finally reached the little village of Bethany and then approached
the burial vault of his friend Lazarus.
The Bible says that he was again
“deeply moved” as he approached the grave. His body again
shuddered with sadness.
Yes, a person often feels that way as you approach the grave itself.
It is a time of intense emotion.
He said, “Remove the stone.”
And Martha, as always, having her own mind, contradicted
Jesus and said, “Why? The
body has been in the grave for four days already and it smells.”
Jesus ignored her and the gravestone was rolled away.
Then Jesus said a beautiful prayer:
“My Father, you hear my prayers.
You always hear my
prayers. Grant my
request so that these people may know that you
have sent me.” Jesus
cried out with a loud voice: “Lararus,
arise.” Lazarus came
out of the grave vault, covered with linen wrappings.
Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go.”
What a story!
It was said of the Messiah.
You will know that the Messiah has come
when the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and
the poor have the good news preached to them.
In the Gospel of John, this is the seventh and final and most
important sign that the Messiah has come, for he has raised the
dead. Jesus has raised his friend Lazarus from the dead who had been
in the grave for four days.
So what shall we
say about this story?
I first want to
focus on the phrase, “shuddered with sadness.”
We all know that experience.
It is part of your life and mine.
I have been with many of you at these sacred moments, where
the pain is so great, that all your body and emotions can do is
shudder with sadness. Or
I recall leaving the home of young Peggy Arns after she had just
died, leaving her two teenagers and a loving husband, driving around
the corner and stopping the car and just sobbing into the steering
wheel. Yes, that is the
way it is for us. And
for Jesus, the Son of God, too.
will say, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way if you believe in God
and believe in the resurrection.
Our loved one is going to a better place, to be with Jesus
where there is no pain, so don’t cry so hard or feel so badly.”
Well, that isn’t the way it was with Jesus.
He believed in the resurrection, in eternal life, in the
heavenly mansion, but he also shuttered with sadness at the loss of
his friend. In other
words, Jesus was not only the Son of God, but also the son of man,
fully human, sharing our grief and our sorrow. He was the model of godly grief, fully human, fully
sorrowful. He even
taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, who grieve, for they shall
I like that phrase
in the story, “See how he loved him. See how Jesus loved
Lazarus.” That is the way with us in our relationships. See how we
loved that person who has died. Whether that person is a mother, a
father, a brother, a sister, a child, a friend. When feelings run
deep, you can see how the grieving person so deeply loved the
Recently, my good
friend Bob died. It was tough. My age. A few years older. Cancer.
Sudden death. Much too fast. Bob wanted to die at his condominium
with his family. I would go up to their condo, when the whole family
was there, gathered around the hospice bed in the living room,
telling stories and laughing with Bob. You could see the love in the
eyes and feel the love in their voices. “See how they loved him”
As a pastor, I see it all the time. I see how they loved him. I see
how they loved her.
Yes, feelings were
running deep that day.
Another thing that
catches me in this story is that Mary was accompanied by her
grieving friends who grieved with her.
There is something supportive and therapeutic about having
friends around you who love you to grieve with you.
For example, this past week when Steve Beer’s mother died,
their family and friends gathered around them to give them
incredible support. I
have been with people when it has been just the opposite; when they
grieve alone with no one around and there is a hollow echo to it
all. Or when the aunt of Tim Madsen died this past week; they had
taken in their aunt to live with them three years ago; and now with
the help of hospice, she had died.
What comfort Tim and his family had when friends came to be
That is what the
church often is: a community of Christ’s compassion and consolation to one
another. In our busy
and active culture, we often don’t have time to live deeply with
our feelings. In our
hurried up plastic world, we often don’t have time to share deep
love or deep sorrow. In our shallow materialistic world, we attempt to minimize
death. But not in the
church. We know love;
we know grief; and we share it with one another.
I remember my
cousin Lois’ funeral, coming back from Lake Oswego, Oregon, where
she died as a young woman. I was so proud to be part of the church.
I was proud of her priest who had visited her so faithfully,
giving her the Sacrament. I
was so proud of her friends, nurses, reading teachers, who so
faithfully were with Lois. I
was so proud of her congregation that rallied around her whole
family. Yes, I saw the
church at its best when they supported Lois and her family through
her death. And that same kind of community was part of the story
for today, with those friends of Mary gathering around her. Yes, that is what the church is for.
The last thing I
want to talk with you about is the
classic line from John: “I
am the resurrection and the life; whoever lives and believes in me
will never die but live forever.
Do you believe this, Martha?”
I have been giving funerals now for three decades, and I have
never done a funeral without quoting this famous passage from the
Gospel of John. In the funeral reading of resurrection passages, I always
include these words from John. I know these words well, deeply
within my heart. I get to that line, “Do you believe this,
Martha?” I then
pause, and say the name of the person whose funeral it is: And Jan said. And
David said. “I
believe. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, and that
whoever lives and believes in you will never die.”
In the funerals, it is a moment of triumph, that the deceased
believes in Jesus Christ and will never die.
And I ask you that
question this morning, the most important question in your life.
“________, do you believe?
Do you believe that Christ is the Son of the living God and
that whoever lives and believes in him will never die?
Do you believe? Do you really
believe?” What a question for you and me this morning. And how we
answer that question affects everything we say and do.
This past week,
Dean Krippaehne visited the New Member Class and I expected he would
talk about being the leader of the Gospel Band and what that means
here at Grace. He
didn’t talk about the Gospel Band at all.
Instead, he talked about how he used to believe in God, the
Supreme Power of the Universe, but in recent years, he had come to
know a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
He wasn’t quite sure how and when it all happened, but
something had happened to him, and his was now a living, daily
relationship with Jesus Christ.
Do you believe that
you will never die?
It is my prayer
that God will give you that quality of faith that was in the heart
of busy Martha. Yes Lord, I believe that I will never die.