On a day when we are worried about our loved ones and our community and our world what earthly use is a story about Jesus raising someone from the dead?
What are we supposed to do with that? It all seems too fanciful.
What was so special about Lazarus?
Nothing really – Lazarus was brother to Mary and Martha.
They were family, they grew up together.
Jesus knew them well, he stayed with them often, they were close.
Mary sat once at the feet of Jesus to listen and learn,
Martha complained to him and said, make her come and help me in the kitchen.
Jesus declined, he was happy to teach Mary.
So Jesus is called to Bethany when Lazarus is ill, but when Jesus arrives in Bethany Lazarus is dead and buried. Martha and Mary are angry “if you had been here my brother would not have died”. Jesus weeps, and is disturbed in spirit.
What does that mean, he is disturbed in spirit? He is upset, he sobs. Jesus at his most human. But then he goes to the tomb and tells them to roll away the stone from the entrance to the cave. Martha, ever practical, points out that it might be a little smelly. And Jesus says “Lazarus, come out”.
How did the crowd react? Gasps? scoffing? silence? And Lazarus comes out.
He is wrapped in the grave cloths (wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy). “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Unbind him, unbind him and let him go.
Why does the gospel writer John give us this story? Well, there is the tomb, there is a stone which has to be rolled away, days have passed, there are grave clothes left behind, and the women are there. Is this about Jesus’ own death and resurrection?
Maybe; but I am drawn back to those words: Unbind him.
Unbind her and let her go.
What is it that binds you?
What are the grave cloths that hold you down, or hold you back.
I am pretty sure today it is fear and anxiety,
also disappointment at your cancelled life right now,
also fatigue and worry,
also being addicted to the news feeds
could also be boredom and cabin fever
worry about finances, jobs and the future
worry about family members.
If you are an essential services person you will be worried about your contact with others.
All of these are heavy burdens we are carrying.
We are at risk of getting bound tight in our grave cloths of worry and fear and anxiety.
But even now, even in the midst of these very real and reasonable worries in our isolation bubbles, Jesus calls us to stand up and walk out of that grave.
We hold out our arms as he unwinds the grave wrappings and sets us free.
Because we can still claim life every day.
We claim life in the face of death.
And we can claim life because Jesus has been there before us.
Lazarus and Martha and Mary have been there before us.
Jesus wept, Mary and Martha wept.
It wasn’t a game or a pretence, it was real.
They wept, they suffered, they knew pain and sorrow.
“Lazarus come out” he said. “Unbind him and let him go”.
Can we hear those words for ourselves and know they are spoken to each of us?
Can we embrace our limited, lockdown life with confidence knowing that God is with us, loves us and weeps with us?
Even if the worst happens and we lose a loved one, remember Jesus weeps with us. And love carries on beyond the grave.
There is a Taize chant we have been singing in Lent at St Matthew’s – “within our darkest night you kindle the fire that never dies away”.
We can’t sing those words together right now but we can sing them at home.
We live out those words by living our lives of faith.
By protesting and lamenting and saying to God, this virus that is sweeping our world is so wrong, and believing in God anyway.
We can walk free from the tomb of death every day.
Hear Jesus calling you out.
Unbind him and let him go; unbind her and let her go; the words are spoken for you.