March 26, 2023 – Fifth Sunday in Lent – John 11:1-45

The story of the raising of Lazarus would make a blockbuster movie, wouldn’t it?  It could be a chick flick, with its interesting cast of characters, their relationships with one another, and of course there’s love and friendship and grief.  It could also make a good drama with lots of suspense . . . what will happen to Jesus if he returns to Judea where the religious authorities were just looking for a way to arrest him. There are good plot twists, too – no one expects Jesus to delay going to help his friends, and at the same time, no one expects the dead man to come strolling out of the grave.  It might be a stretch to be billed a comedy; but there is some humor in the story – I love how practical Martha is worried about the smell that will pour forth from the grave if they roll away the stone.  Clearly, she is expecting death from within the tomb, not life.  Even sci-fi devotees might like the movie – I mean, bringing someone back from the dead certainly fits into the science fiction or fantasy genre . . . except there’s not much in the way of special effects.

Just for fun, I did an internet search to see if there were any mainstream movies that had been influenced by the Lazarus narrative, and I found two that have come out somewhat recently.  Lazarus came out in 2021, and this was the synopsis I read:  After a man is revived from death by murder, he finds that he has otherworldly powers to help avenge the crime ring out to destroy him and his city.  Brought back from the dead, a vigilante uses his newfound superpowers to battle an evil organization.  Admittedly not my kind of movie, but I imagine that there must have been some cool effects, what with the guy having superpowers.  The other slightly older movie, from 2015, was called The Lazarus Effect.  This plot line sounded a little more interesting to me:  At a university, medical researchers Dr. Frank Walton and his fiancée, Dr. Zoe McConnell, have developed a serum, code-named “Lazarus,” intended to assist coma patients but shown to be able to actually bring the dead back to life.”  But then I read that it was classified a supernatural horror film . . . nah, not my cup of tea.  But I bet it, too, had some awesome special effects.

Which, to be clear, John’s story does not!  The original Lazarus does not have special effects.  In fact, the high point of the drama is told in a very understated tones:  Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!”  And wait for it . . . he did.  Only two verses of this forty-five verse story are devoted to the actual raising of Lazarus.  There are no flashes of light or rumbles of thunder, no heavenly trumpet fanfare or voice from the clouds – just a guy walking out of a tomb.  Sure, Jesus did look upward and pray in a loud voice so that everyone could hear and know where he got the ability to override death.  But he didn’t even move the stone.  You know, cinematically, he could have flung the stone aside or levitated it or had Lazarus come busting through it.  But that’s not how it happens.  Instead, Jesus commands those who are there to move the stone.  Curious that he didn’t just take care of it himself.

And then, as Lazarus comes stumbling out into the daylight, a real-life mummy, it’s not Jesus who does the unwrapping.  Instead, he orders the crowd to unbind him, and let him go.  That’s also curious to me, and fairly anticinematic.  I mean, imagine the tender scene if Jesus had rushed forward himself to greet his dear friend, gently unwrapping the bindings, sharing a warm embrace.  But that’s not how it happens.  He orders Lazarus’ friends and neighbors to set him free.

Both in the moving of the stone and the unwrapping of the graveclothes, Jesus invites other people to participate in bringing Lazarus to new life.  These details in this story – they touch me deeply.  Because they reinforce to me just how important we are to one another.  Jesus does the heavy lifting, of course.  But others help prepare the way and finish the task.  In my mind, this emphasizes just how critical a role we play in one another’s faith life.  Many people think of faith as private, a “me-and-Jesus” affair.  And don’t get me wrong – Jesus doesn’t need anyone to help him save us.  Just like he could have raised Lazarus all on his own, he doesn’t need anyone to help him to give us new life.  But he wants us to help one another.

How many stones have your friends in Christ moved for you?  How many obstacles have they removed from your path?  Maybe they helped you to see some difficult situation in a better light.  Maybe they pitched in and helped with a difficult task or hugged you for encouragement, reminding you that you weren’t alone.  Maybe just the knowledge that they were praying for you helped you to get over whatever hump or hurdle you had in front of you.  When others move the stones for us, it helps us to get to the new and abundant life that Jesus wants for us.  We participate in one another’s salvation.

And how many times have your friends in Christ unbound you, unwrapped whatever was keeping you stuck in your dark, lonely tomb?  Maybe you’ve experienced that unbinding when you’re dealing with a loss or trying to figure out what to do, and your friends just let you talk, even though sometimes you feel like you’re saying the same thing over and over again.  Their listening sets you free.  Or maybe you’ve experienced them setting you free when you’ve just wanted to be left alone – left alone in your pain or perhaps left alone to avoid dealing with your pain – and yet your friends have continually invited you, encouraged you, bugged you even, to come out for coffee, to dinner, to church.  It’s like they’re trying to peel off layers of protection so that your heart can begin to heal.  Healing comes through community because love is made real in community.  And community in Christ is this:  wherever two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there in their midst.  In community, with one another, we help each other grow into the new life Jesus has given to us.

The story of Lazarus reminds us that community matters.  It may not sell a lot of tickets or take home an Oscar for best visual effects, but it sure makes a difference in our lives.  And its effects last way longer.  Community is the gift that keeps on giving.  See, after Jesus was gone, the community was still there for Lazarus.  And that same community of followers of Jesus Christ is still here for us.  We call it church.  And through it, we find new life.


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