God of new life, God of risen hope, as we worship together, may we know your resurrection power in our lives. May our spirits be renewed. May our bodies be restored. Amen.
Bible reading: John 11. 1-45
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.
‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’
40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.
Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ (vs. 38-44)
This story, the raising of Lazarus, is one of the highlights in John’s Gospel, as it signals the great event of Jesus’ resurrection. But, what we hear is that this miraculous happening eventually caused Jewish leaders to seek Jesus’ death. Ironically we are to see Jesus under threat because of bringing life to someone else. Yet, in a sense, that is what the message of the Gospel is all about.
In this story, we see Jesus perform this miracle very carefully, like a well-planned drama. He does not rush to rescue his ill friend. He deliberately delays his journey for two days, to see him. Why didn’t he rush right over and save his friend? Isn’t that his definition of friendship: a friend is someone who cares enough to drop everything, even his life. What was Jesus doing that was more important than helping a friend in a desperate need?
In this respect, it’s not surprising to see Mary and Martha grumbling about his late turning up, saying ‘Our brother would have been saved if you had come earlier. He’s been dead for four days.’ Martha stresses on four days. Why do you think she was stressing on four days? It is because in Jewish culture, they thought and believed that the spirit was to leave the body after three days of being dead.
Therefore, it means that although they had seen Jesus raising the dead, healing the sick, and driving out the demons, they were still stuck and bound to their own mind-set, their tradition and their limited human understanding.
They might have thought, ‘life-giving miracle could be happening within three days’.
But, they should have known that Jesus is not bound by death, or death’s timetable. Rather, they are subject to Jesus. And, the time is in his hands. God only knows the right time. And, we need to make it clear that in this story, Jesus didn’t take ‘death’ lightly. He didn’t mean ‘death is nothing at all’. Jesus knew the reality of death. Death is real. However, in God’s hands, death is the raw material of resurrection, if you like.
That’s why Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life”. As we believe this in our hearts, we are to see him at work, amongst us, through us, with the word given to us.
And, what we see in the raising of Lazarus is just a foretaste of that hope, which is offered to us all through Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
With this hope, we are to look beyond death to the new life promised by God. Amen.
Prayer of Intercession
Lord, our God, in this time of uncertainty and fear, time of challenge, help us to stand firm, trusting you and your never-changing love. Guide us and strengthen us with your Spirit, so that we may continue to serve you and your people, particularly those who are vulnerable, those who have lost their jobs, those who find it more difficult to stay isolated. Yes, Lord, being alone is hard. We were created for community, not for confinement. But, we are grateful that no matter how alone we may feel, you never leave or forsake us. So, Lord, give us strength to endure this difficult time, and deepen our connection with you and your people. Empower us with an extra amount of your love, peace, hope, and joy. And, Lord, give us your wisdom to continue to worship in different ways, and to continue to be the church, as we support each other and share your love with one another. And, bless each one of us, as we live in your promises. Amen.