Today we continue to read from Saint John's Gospel as we have for the last two weeks. John's Gospel is a masterpiece. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the 'synoptic' Gospels because of their similarities. You can lay them side by side and see the basic facts of Jesus' life. John marches to a different drummer. He is the theologian who takes us beyond the facts of Jesus' life to the meaning, the much deeper meaning of those facts.
There are four parts to Saint John's Gospel. The first part is his beautiful prologue, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with and the Word was God." The next twelve chapters are called the Book of Signs in which Saint John details the miracles of Jesus. The third part is called the Book of Glory which is the account of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection. And, finally, the fourth part is the conclusion to the Gospel.
Today we read from the Book of Signs. Saint John arranges the second part of his Gospel around the 'signs' or the miracles of Jesus. The miracles of Jesus reveal his identity. The first of the 'signs' was at the Wedding Feast at Cana. Jesus turns water into wine. And we are told that it was at Cana of Galilea where he first revealed his glory and the disciples began to believe in Jesus.
Fast forward to the very last chapter of John's Gospel and John tells us that Jesus worked many other signs that are not recorded in the Gospel. But these signs have been recorded so that we might come to believe that he is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. The signs in John's Gospel reveal Jesus' identity so that we, like the Apostles, may come to believe in him.
Think of some of the miracles or 'signs'.
Jesus heals the royal official's son and reveals himself as the Divine Physician.
He multiplies the loaves and feeds the hungry crowd and reveals that he is the Bread of Life.
He walks on water and reveals that he is the Lord of nature.
He heals a man born blind and reveals himself as the Light of the World.
And in today's Gospel he performs the last and the greatest of his 'signs' and raises a man from the dead and reveals himself as the resurrection and the life.
Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jesus purposely waits for four days before coming to the tomb. And that detail is important because the Jews believed that the soul hovered over a dead person for three days. By the fourth day that soul had departed, and the person was truly dead.
And to Lazarus, dead for four days, Jesus says, "Lazarus come out!" And Lazarus, to the amazement of all, walks out of the tomb.
Jesus gives life to a man who was dead. It is the greatest of his signs and, ironically, the Gospel tells us this is the sign for which Jesus will be killed. It was this sign that led to his arrest, his trial, his suffering, his death - and his resurrection from the dead.
In the tenth chapter of John's Gospel Jesus tells us that he has come into the world that we might have life and that we might have life to the full. In raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus shows us that he has come that we might have life, here and now, as well as eternity. Jesus is the Lord of Life.
Lazarus raised from the dead, would die again one day together with his sisters Martha and Mary. But this sign that Jesus performed of raising Lazarus back to this life here on earth, led Martha to make her great profession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, who has the power to raise us to new and fuller life - to eternal life.
We have all heard this Gospel. We know it well. But God's word is a living word and it is always new because it speaks to us in the context of our lives. God speaks to us today in the context of a terrible pandemic that has engulfed our world. And I don't know about you, but I hear the words of Jesus in a very personal. "Lazarus, come out!" After days of social-distancing, we may all feel like we have been in
the tomb and are looking forward to coming back to life as we once knew it - albeit with a new appreciation for everything for the gift that it is.
Through the signs he performed Jesus reveals his identity to us.
Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full. Jesus wants us to know this fullness of life in every sense. And while we look forward to that day when we will be called forth from the confines of our homes as the pandemic subsides - as it will, Jesus wants something more for us that freeing us from the physical restraints that we are experiencing in these days. Jesus wants u to know a spiritual freedom in which our spirits are set free to enjoy a new and a fuller life, not just at some future time, but here and now.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit the Risen Lord stands among us today and calls each of us by name to come forth from the tombs that keep us from being fully alive.
It may be the tomb of unforgiveness in which we have failed to forgive someone who has hurt us and by that unforgiveness we ourselves are locked in a tomb of bitterness and hatred.
It may be the tomb of prejudice that has led us to draw battle lines dividing the world in a million and one ways, deeming only the people who think like us as worthy of our love leaving us to rot in a tomb of ignorance.
It may be a tomb of self-indulgence in which we are so concerned about our own needs and our own comforts that we are blind to the needs of others and we are locked in a tomb that keeps us from knowing the joy of giving.
It may be the tomb of pride - the pride that was at the root of original sin and all subsequent sin in which we are so certain that we know better than anyone else, even than God, that we write our own commandments and lock ourselves in a tomb of self-righteousness.
Our tombs are many. And like the people of Ezekiel's time, we may recognize ourselves as dead men walking.
Jesus came that we might have life and that we might have it to the full. Jesus came to open our tombs - not only the tomb that will one day hold our bodies, but all the tombs in which we have chosen to live here and now.
"Lazarus, come out!" "Todd, come out!"
In these final days of Lent let us recognize the tombs in which we have chosen to live and let us listen to the One who calls us to come out of those tombs here and now - and for all eternity!