THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT AD 2020
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Come out! I know we’re only a couple weeks in to what could be months of “social distancing” and that some of you are only half way through your time of “self isolation,” but I’ve got to tell you, that I’m already feeling a deep longing to hear the words Jesus speaks today outside Lazarus’ tomb. “Come out!” Yes, I long to hear that it’s safe for us to emerge out of our homes and social tombs to greet others again in joy, instead of looking on each other as possible sources of infection and death, that must be kept not even at arms length but at least 2 meters away.
Hey at this point, I’d be happy to kick peoples feet in greeting, instead of shaking their hand or wrapping them in a warm hug. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” No it is not. That the Lord’s verdict on that. No, alone, distanced, isolated is not the image that God created us in. Like Him we were made to live in communion with one another. Sin is what distanced and isolated us from Him and each other. No, it is not good that the man should be alone, and boy am I ever feeling it in these dark trying days, and I have a family at home, that I at least haven’t been asked as of yet, as of yet, to keep at least 2 meters away from me.
I know that this is a necessary burden, that we all have to bear at this time out of love for our neighbour. Social distancing and isolation work, when it comes to slowing down and controlling the spread of disease, but I can’t help but see that this is one of the more damaging things, that this deadly pestilence that stalks in the darkness is doing to us. Of course the sickness and death of many are no light matter, nor is the fear and anxiety that it is causing in so many hearts and minds, but this isolating and distancing, although necessary, and even our duty as God’s children at this time, tear apart and separate in so many ways what God created to be together.
Come out! Yes, I long to hear those words, to hear that it is safe to emerge and come back together. What a glorious morning that will be, when this plague has passed and has simply become a story that today’s children can tell to their grandchildren. I know that we’ve only begun and that asking Dad every five minutes, “How much longer?” if anything only makes the trip and the time pass more slowly. And no, I’m not going into oxytocin withdrawal yet, that feel good chemical in your brain, that you get a dose of whenever you give someone a hug, but I can feel the jitters on the horizon.
The way forward, I’ve learned, having gone through the trials of a massive stroke and months of mental anguish and affliction with post- stroke anxiety, is simply to keep your head down and take it one day at a time, or even one hour or moment at a time, until in the words of the great Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt, the storm passes and “the sun you hoped for delights your eager sight.” Morning by morning the Sun rises, even behind a cloudy sky, as an assurance from our heavenly Father, that the darkness will always give way to the dawning light. We have this hope in the midst of this trial to, beloved, that the Lord will hear the prayers of His people and deliver us from Covid 19.
When that will be, I think we must admit God alone knows, but that it will be, that we can say for certain, especially as God’s people. Yes, beloved, no matter what we face in this world we have not only the assurance, but the sure and certain promise in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life, that every storm will end in a sunrise, every grief in joy and every death in life. The Lord makes that perfectly clear to us today, as He journeys to Bethany to stand outside his beloved friend Lazarus’ tomb with grieving Mary and Martha and bring to an end the storm of sorrow that had come thundering down on them. Yes, beloved, the Son who tore apart those clouds over Bethany when He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!” stands on the other side of this Covid 19 storm, or any other one that we face in this life, with His loud voice ready to bring an end to it all. Yes, end for us it must, and end for us it will, whether it is in the rising of the sun on a Covid 19 free world or on our eyes opening to the joys of eternal life.
Make no mistake about it, beloved, the Lord can and will bring an end to all of this when it has done what He wants it to do, just as it happened with the death of Lazarus. As baptized children of God we have the sure and certain word from Christ, that for each and every one of us, this illness that is all around us and may even come to us, also does not lead to death, but is for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Yes, beloved, what you need to know and see is that the resurrected Lord Jesus is already standing outside your tomb, wherever it may end up being in this world, with His loud voice ready to call out your name and command you to come out.
What we see going on in Bethany today, leaves us with no doubt that no matter what we’re facing we have a sure and certain hope, that it will pass and get better in Christ. Will it be hard? Without question, but the One who raised Lazarus and went on to rise Himself on the third day will bring it to an end, yes, He will, in the days ahead and at the last when He makes all things new. Hope. Yes, in Christ we have that, beloved, and do not, do not, allow anyone to take that from you, especially the liar, who is not only the author of this deadly pestilence but the one who stalks in it, working to tear us apart from God and one another and bring us to despair.
Hope, yes, beloved, we have that in Christ, but even more than that, we have Christ Himself with us in the midst of all of this, that is made perfectly clear by those incredible beautiful words, “Jesus wept.” Yes, Jesus is with us in all of this. We may be socially distanced and even self-isolated but, no, we are not alone. The Son of God was made man not only so that He could save us from things like Covid 19 and all that sin and death bring to us, but so that He could groan with us, grieve with us and even weep with us. He knows our worries and fears. He understands our griefs and sorrows. He knows our burdens and cares. Because He has known and borne them all, to be with us and carry us through them until with His loud voice He calls out to deliver us from them all.
“Come out,” yes, beloved, I long to hear those words. But even in the midst of the distance and isolation that we find ourselves in at this time, the Lord wants us to know and rejoice in the truth that in Christ we can never be distanced or isolated from Him or one another. Although this pestilence has driven us into our own separate homes, the Lord who has promised never to leave us or forsake us ever binds us together and as surely, as He put Lazarus and Mary and Martha back into each others arms, He will do the same for us. No, Covid 19, nor sin, death and hell can stand before the One who is the Resurrection and the Life, beloved, a rocky hill and empty tomb outside Jerusalem leave us in no doubt about that, which makes me want to cry out with an “A” word but it’s Lent, so for the time being a firm and final “Amen.” will have to do, “Amen,” will have to do. Amen.