Lent 5A

"The Raising of Lazarus" by Rembrant, The Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt. Oil on panel. 37 15/16 x 32 in. (96.36 x 81.28 cm). Late 1620s or 1630-32. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

"The Raising of Lazarus" by Rembrant, The Raising of LazarusRembrandt. Oil on panel. 37 15/16 x 32 in. (96.36 x 81.28 cm). Late 1620s or 1630-32. Los Angeles County Museum of Art


57: April 6, 2014

213: April 2, 2017


Exegetical Notes

John 11:1-45 The death and raising of Lazarus

Initial thoughts

  • One of my youth once pointed out to me that John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept”  (KJV). He thought he was getting out of a memorization exercise. It started a good discussion.
  • Add the next few verses?  John 11:45-53 frames the story amid Jesus’ rising conflict with leaders.  Lazarus is the motive behind their plot to kill him.
  • This is another typical monster passage with a lot to cover, and I may argue it is stopped too soon.

    • 46-53 is an important part of the story. In the Gospel of John, the raising of Lazarus is the moment when the leaders decided that they needed to kill Jesus (it is better for one to die than the whole nation). This act made them realize just how dangerous Jesus is.

Bible  Study

  • Which Mary is it?
    • probably not Mary Magdalene, or she would have been called by name.
    • Gospel of John has possibly three different Marys:  
      1. Chapters 11-12, Mary, sister of Martha. Also anointed Jesus’ feet with oil.
        • John is only gospel that names the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil, thus making it less likely historically to be the same per son

        • In John, Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet comes in the next chapter, and it is tied directly to Judas’s betrayal. The anointing takes place immediately before Jesus enters Jerusalem.

        • In Matthew, this scene takes place immediately before the Passover meal, and is only tacitly connected to Judas..

        • In Mark it takes place at Simon’s the leper’s house, and is the last thing before the Passover meal.
        • v. 2 points ahead to 12:3. In John, this story is used to increase tension with Judas.  In other Gospels, woman’s name is not mentioned.  In Mark 14:3-9 an unnamed woman anoints Jesus’ head. it is connected to anointing of the dead.  In Luke 7:36f, a nameless woman interrupts a meal with the Pharisees and does a similar act - anointing feet with oil and tears. It is shown connected to lack of hospitality of the Pharisees. Luke later names Mary and Martha, but there is no connection between this episode and them.
      2. 19:25, at the cross of Jesus stood Mary, wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.
      3. Chapter 20 Mary Magdalene finds Jesus’ tomb empty.
  • Lazarus is ill “for the glory of God,” reminiscent of blind man last week.
    • All of Gospel of John is “written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.” (John 20:30)
  • Jesus waits 2 days
    • Common English Bible makes an important translation: adds the word “opposition.”
      • v. 8 instead of being “The Jews want to stone you.” It reads “The Jewish opposition wants to stone you.”  Removes the conflict from generalized, and dangerous, “The Jews” to the reality of a select group that is in opposition to Jesus.
    • Despite the fear of the disciples, Jesus moves toward the danger.
    • Jesus acts “for the glory of the Lord.””
      • In fact, “For the glory of the Lord” is a good lens through which to read the entire gospel of John. Everything happens “For the glory of the Lord,” or “so that you [the reader] will believe and have life.”

      • The whole gospel was written “so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ… and that believing, you will have life in his name.”

    • Thomas (Didymus) rallies the other disciples “Let’s go too so that we may die with Jesus.”
  • Jesus with Martha and Mary
    • Lazarus had been dead four days (but Jesus waited two)
    • He came from Bethany at Jordan to Bethany near Jerusalem, this is not a distant journey, less than 20 miles - one day’s journey.

    • Martha’s faith:

      • She believes Jesus could have healed Lazarus.

      • She believes in “resurrection on the last day.”

      • She beli eves “you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
    • Paradox of Jesus mourning
      • Jesus is not a passive observer.
      • Trials of life affect Jesus, even at his most powerful moment.  
      • Provides evidence that Jesus (and God) “suffering with” us.
    • Mary and Martha profess belief despite mourning
      • Both declare, “if you had been here, he’d be alive.”
      • Martha: “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
  • Jesus is “deeply disturbed.” The Greek suggests anger.  
    • What to make of anger?  Was he angry at Mary and Martha for mourning? Was he angry at the crowds that wouldn’t leave him alone? Was he angry that his friend died? Perhaps just a normal part of grief process, that includes anger. 
    • “These verses are among the most difficult to understand in the Gospel. From the earliest patristic interpreters of the text, commentators have struggled to interpret the words about Jesus’ emotion in these verses.” (Gail O’Day, New Interpreter's Bible, v. IX, p. 690)

    • “Deeply disturbed” connotes anger, not compassion.

      • “Translations suggest that the verbs … have to do with the depths of Jesus’ compassion. However, they are more interpretation than translation, because the Greek verbs do not have these meanings. The first verb (embrimaomai) connotes anger and indignation, not compassion… The primary meaning of the second verb is “agitated” or “troubled” and is used here to underscore the intensity of Jesus’ emotion.” (O’Day, p. 690)

      • Jesus is described as “angry” at Mary and the Jews.

        • Anger at death itself

        • Anger at their unbelief

      • The Jews say “Come and See”, which is the same invitation Jesus gave to his disciples.

        • Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See” was an invitation to see new life, the light of the world, and the glory of God. “The Jews” invitation to “Come and See” was to witness death. They were presenting evidence of death and despair in the world.

      • Perhaps Jesus’ anger is at the fact that death is the path to new life.

      • The Jews interpretation of why Jesus is crying should not be accepted.

        • “Throughout the Fourth Gospel, the response of the crowd, particularly when they are called ‘the Jews,’ is not to be trusted.” (O’Day, p. 691).

        • V. 37  is not a statement of faith, but a statement of derision, much like the taunting to come on the Cross.
  • At Lazarus’s tomb
    • He is “deeply disturbed” when he gets to the tomb - perhaps because they sealed it with stone, thinking that was the final resting place?
      • When seen through the lens of anger, this conversation with Martha takes on a different tone.

    • “Untie him, and let him go”

      • The community needs to be told what to do.

      • Lazarus had to be unbound.  People had to be there to finish the work Jesus had started.

    • Jesus is frustrated

    • There is no rejoicing, simply belief or reports to the Pharisees.
    • Lazarus is culmination of Jesus’ ministry.  Everything builds to this moment.  
    • Margerie Suchocki points to progression of Jesus’ self-identification in John
      • John 4:26: I who speak to you am he (the Messiah).
      • John 6:35 and John 6:48: I am the bread of life
      • John 6:51: I am the living bread that came down out of heaven
      • John 8:12 and John 9:5: I am the light of the world
      • John 8:58: Before Abraham was, I am
      • John 10:7 and John 10:9: I am the door
      • John 10:11 and John 10:14: I am the good shepherd
      • John 11:25: I am the resurrection and the life.
    • “Amid the symbols of death - intense grief, a skeptical and somewhat impatient audience, the odor of a decaying body, the tightly wrapped grave clothes - Jesus speaks and acts, and there is life” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 226).

Preaching Thoughts and Questions

  • “Jesus wept.” What does it mean to follow a messiah who wept? What does it mean to have a Savior who cries?

A show comment from last time round the cycle: “I can never hear this account of Jesus' raising Lazarus without thinking of an impromptu Bible study I had with a bereaved mother in her hospital room. During my Clinical Pastoral Education unit (required for priests in training in the Episcopal Church), my assigned areas were the NICU (neo-natal ICU) and high risk pregnancy unit.
I spent several days visiting and praying with this woman whose baby died in her arms just hours after being born.  The last time I saw her, she asked, "Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. Why won't he do the same for my little girl? I'm pretty mad about that--am I going to hell? If I do, will I ever see my baby?"
After I swallowed a river of tears and assured her that she was not hell-bound for being mad at God, I located the Bible in her room (thank you, Gideonites!) and started reading John 11. I even took time to explain about the Book of Signs and why Jesus raised Lazarus in the first place (can you say pedantic pastoral care?). When we got to the part where "Jesus wept", the woman stopped me.
"Do you think Jesus is weeping for my baby?"
"Yes, he's holding her now and weeping for her and for you."
That seemed to be what she needed to hear. But it probably isn't what I'll preach about on Sunday. Or maybe I will preach about Jesus weeping, without using that story.
  • Martha, Mary, and people all ask, “Couldn’t he have kept him from dying?”  How often have we asked the same question?  How often is bargaining a part of our grief?  Can God prevent death? Can or Does God intervene to stop tragedy, or does he show up late and pick up the pieces?
  • Raising of Lazarus is final act revealing that Jesus is life.  It is done in full view of public, and reaction to his life-giving ministry is death.  Death always follows life, but with Jesus, death is not the end of the story.
  • Little rejoicing.  Sometimes we are too shocked at something to react.  In this story there are simply some who believe and follow, and some who report what happened to the Pharisees.  Jesus’s life and ministry forces you into response.  
  • What are you inviting people to “Come and see.” Are you inviting people to come and see the new life, or to come and see death.

  • It might be a stretch, but: Five Stages of Grief:

    • Denial - Jesus waiting to leave.

    • Anger - Jesus is “deeply disturbed”

    • Bargaining - Sisters lamenting, “if only Jesus had gotten here sooner.”

    • Depression - Jesus weeps

    • Acceptance - Some believe in Jesus, fulfillment of Jesus’ mission and self-revelation.

Psalm 130 Out of the depths

Initial thoughts

Bible Study

  • v. 1 Out of the Depths
    • From the valley of the shadow of death?
    • From the drone of everyday-ness?
    • From deep tragedy - cancer, divorce, loneliness, etc?
      • The death of a friend Jesus - Lazarus) or a brother (Mary and Martha - Lazarus)
    • Psalmist does not leave or refuse to interact with God, but even in the depths- cries out
  • Issues of timing
    • Our time vs God’s time - when it matches up and when it doesn’t
    • Harold Camping - May 21, 2013
    • “Here is a family separated by the obligations of military service, waiting for a beloved daughter to return. Here is a widow waiting for her home to sell, so she can move closer to her son and grandchildren. Here is a patient waiting for a lab report. Here is a man who has betrayed his wife, asking, praying, waiting to be forgiven. The preacher lifts up such waiting, not in order to tell people how they should wait, but to assure them that the pastor, the church, the psalmist, and the resurrected Lord all wait with them!” (Thomas E Mcgrath, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.)
    • Active waiting: cry, hear, mark, watch, hope, redeem - active words in the midst of waiting
  • v. 4 - Forgiveness
    • Forgiveness is central to what IS known about God
    • Weird phrasing “there is forgiveness with you”
      • not simply about who God is
      • About who we are when we are “with” God
  • Individual and Community
    • We all sin - v.3 sometimes individually and sometimes corporately
      • It is easier to sin as a church, country or community - in other words we allows institutions to get away with things that we consider unacceptable for individuals to do.
    • Waiting is isolating- v. 7 and 8 remind us of the corporate nature of waiting.
      • Waiting with
      • Active waiting can be the most vital ministry

Preaching Thoughts and Questions

  • What are you waiting for?
  • What is the church waiting for?
  • What does it mean to actively wait for God?
  • Can we wait and remain faithful in the hope of something yet unrealized? Or do we give up and move on?

Ezekiel 37:1-14 Can these bones live?

Initial Thoughts

  • Ezekiel, priest and prophet at the beginning of the the Exile

    • Son of a priestly family - should have become a priest but was taken to Babylon in the first exile 597 BCE

    • Became a prophet at 30 years old while working in the village of of Tel-abib

    • Extreme embodied demonstrations of prophetic proclamation:

      • Laying on his side for 390 days and then his other side for 40 days

      • Shaving his head and then striking it around the city

      • Building a model of Jerusalem and laying siege to it

      • Packing up his belongings every night in a mock exile

      • Shaking and trembling when he ate

    • Repeatedly addressed as the “Son of Man”

  • Book of Ezekiel

    • ~591-571 BCE

    • Prophecies are from before and after the fall of Jerusalem

    • Book was likely compiled after the the restoration of Jerusalem (538 BCE)

Bible Study

  • Metaphorical Vision as described in v.11-14 depicting the resurrection of Israel, not proof of the bodily resurrection of Christians.

  • Message of hope that Israel will one day be restored by God

  • Resurrection: bodily and politically

    • Resurrection of the body can only be achieved through the power of God

    • Political resurrection/restoration also can only be restored through the power of God, but the people don’t realize this.

      • Looking to Egypt as a source of redemption and restoration

      • Look only to God

    • “More than anything else human beings can hope for, Calvin claimed, the resurrection of the dead is so utterly dependent upon God that there can be no doubt that it lies outside of our powers. There are forms of immortality that one can recognize as intrinsic to existence in the normal course of things—the survival of one's heirs, influence, or reputation, for instance. For a body to be resuscitated long after it has begun to decompose, that is a miracle.” Kelton Cobb, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

    • Resurrection, in the view of early Christians (Irenaeus and Tertullian), required a body.

      • Very different view of biology

      • Why the punishment by Rome (eaten by lions or hacked apart by Gladiators was considered especially cruel as it prevented resurrection)

      • Later those who were thought irredemable by the Church would be beheaded to prevent resurrection

  • Method of restoration? Prophesy - prophetic proclamation of God - speaking truth to power

    • Prophecy is often seen a method of tearing down systems of oppression and power, here prophesy is a message of hope-filled redemption

    • However - the redemption of Israel will take place only through the power of God!

    • Ezekiel is called to preach the Word of God - that is the means of renewal and resurrection - a powerful task for any preacher

    • Ezekiel is told to call upon the Spirit of God and give it life - when was the last time you called upon the Spirit of God?

    • What is needed is not the latest technology or sermon series or program- what is needed is the word of God. The “dry bones” are listening, waiting & begging for someone to bring the Word.

Sermon Thoughts and Questions

  • When was the last time you called upon the Spirit of God to fill your congregation?

    • I always think the Spirit is already present, but perhaps it is a both-and. Perhaps calling upon the Spirit/invoking the spirit not only summons the breath of God, but makes us aware of its presence.

  • Who in your congregation is in need of renewal and resurrection? What groups or communities are in need of renewal and resurrection? What word of God are they waiting for?

Thank you for listening and get in touch:

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).