Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, RCL
By this point in the Gospel, the disciples have seen Jesus heal both the lame and a man born blind yet they still don’t seem to fully understand the relationship they are being called to; a relationship of abiding love. Jesus alludes to the disciple's continued disbelief. He says, “For your sake, I am glad I was not there, [to heal Lazarus] so that you may believe.” At this point we have the disciples don’t want to return to Judea because they are fearful of their safety. But surprisingly it is Doubting Thomas who seems to understand that this trek toward Jerusalem is not about safety, it is about following Jesus. Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
We know that following Jesus is not safe and it often pulls us out of our comfort zone. Right now many of us are out of our comfort zone as we try to find new routines and ways to worship together. But the trek to Jerusalem is not the main point of our passage today. The main point of our gospel centers around Jesus’ decision to wait two days before going to Judea.
Waiting seems so cruel. Why wait ‘till your sick friend is dead for four days? Why let Lazarus’s two sisters grieve the loss of their brother instead of just healing him? Before we can delve into this answer we should explore death a bit more. An illustration from the movie “The Princess Bride” allows us to see why this delay was so important.
Many years ago there was a famous man who could perform all kinds of miracles. He was so respected that a King retained his services. As the King grew old and his son gained power the prince fires the man, known as Miracle Max. From this point on Miracle Max is out of work. Some years later, two men bring their dead friend Wesley to Miracle Max. Their hope is for a miracle, to resuscitate Wesley so that they can overthrow Prince Humperdinck, restore true love, and bring peace to the kingdom.
In this scene, Miracle Max says to the two men, “Your friend here is only mostly dead. There is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, there is only one thing you can do.” “Go through his clothes and look for loose change.” Miracle Max illustrates to us why Jesus had to wait until Lazarus was no longer “mostly dead” but “all dead.”
The Jewish thought, according to the Talmud, is that upon death the soul leaves the body and hovers nearby for three days. After three days the soul returns to God. Since Jesus waited, Lazarus is now dead for four days instead of two. Lazarus isn’t mostly dead but completely dead and there is no way for Lazarus to be healed.
This miracle is a sign of life from death. Christ shows us that he has power over death itself. Sure this is a foreshadowing of what will happen to Jesus and it is also a foreshadowing of what will happen to us on Christs’ return. But for John, the fourth evangelist, it is also a foreshadowing of what life in Christ is right here, right now.
Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Martha assumed, as I’d imagen that many of us do, that this glory we are to see will be on the last day. But the glory of God is not found only on the last day or upon our death. Through abiding love in Christ, we see God’s glory in the present moment. This glory was so evident that many of the people “who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”
The waiting of two days wasn’t some cruel trick. Even Jesus was “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved.” As painful as this delay was it was a gift. It was a gift so that we may believe in Christ. So that we can witness his power over death and his power to keep his promise to us of everlasting life.
I would think that, in these uncertain times, we could hardly ask for a better gift.
The Princess Bride. 1987