Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
These words were written by Mark Twain after some reports surfaced of his death, it was his cousin who was ill and not him, and I think those words are a proper way for us to think about this Lazarus Sunday.
Jesus was overcome with emotion at the tomb where his friend lay. Jesus who knew new life was coming, was still suddenly emotional, seeing the faith of those who lost their loved one who still believed even in the midst of their grief.
Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…Do you believe?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
Faith in the midst of the most dire circumstances, Martha has it and she shares it in the midst of her pain. Jesus lives the faith and still weeps for his friend.
So in the midst of faith and pain, Lazarus is raised. Jesus said, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
Sadness and fear were present in that village. So too was faith, a faith that believed in the resurrection, a faith that began with Mary & Martha and would spread to others, the belief of Jesus as the messiah, and Lazarus was freed. The Glory of God shown forth through the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus could have said it, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Today we celebrate that Jesus brought life out of death. Reminding us to seek out life even in the midst of our tombs…
His life was a never-ending winter of depression. His heart had been broken too many times; his last few dreams finally died in defeat and disappointment. He would leave his house only to go teach his classes or see his doctor, but his real life was lived under a blanket in his dark bedroom.
Then, one day, he was drawn to his empty yard and felt the urge to dig. He turned over spade after spade of dirt until he had cleared a small plot. He planted a few seeds and managed to find the energy to water and fertilize and weed. Soon he picked his first small basket of tomatoes and beans. He now had reason to get out of bed. He was now a gardener.
That was a few years ago. As he looks back, he wonders what he could have done if only he had gotten up out of bed and put on his shoes: He could have built a boat. He could have written a book. He could have planted a garden.
Now, each winter, as the snows rage, he spends hours at his kitchen table planning the next year's garden. On a large piece of paper he marks the rows: carrots here, potatoes there, beans in that section, tomato plants and corn on the edges. Maybe something different - kale or spinach? Would this be the year he would attempt a watermelon vine? He eagerly looks forward to the new the seed catalog each year; he devours gardening books and is constantly checking out horticultural websites looking for new ways to make next season's garden greener and more productive.
While the world around him is entombed in winter, he lives in the never-disappointing hope of spring, looking forward to digging in his garden and gathering the bounty of the harvest. [Suggested by "The Garden" by Richard Jones, Spirituality & Heath, March/April 2011.]
All of us have experienced some extended spiritual winter in our lives when we have felt trapped by the feeling that nothing matters much, when we are entombed by disappointment, hurt and grief - or we are so absorbed by work or play or others' expectations that distract us from being the kind of spouse, parent, child or friend we want and are called to be.
Jesus who calls Lazarus from his tomb calls us out of the tombs we dig for ourselves in order to walk in the light of hope and possibility. He calls us to live life to the fullest, to bring the love of God into our cold, wintry world. Jesus calls not only to Lazarus but to all of us: Come out! Go free! Unbind yourselves from the wrappings of death!
Live life to the fullest - the life given to you by a loving God. May we hear that same call to life even in our darkest and coldest winters, enabling us to drop the bindings of disappointment and anger, the tombs of death and embrace the never failing hope of the gardener & the good earth, and the abundant life of God.
Seize the day for the reports of our deaths are greatly exaggerated! Amen.