LAZARUS, STAY IN !
Scripture Reading John 11:1-44
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
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 odor, 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 around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
I’ve never been much of a lectionary preacher, although many preachers are. The lectionary is a number of Biblical passages to be read every Sunday throughout the year. The lectionary chooses an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, and two passages from the New Testament, gospel and epistle.
I belong to a FB group called “Happy to be Presbyterian.” The group is populated by Presbyterian ministers who share ideas and ask each other questions. The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, March 29 are Ezekiel 37:1-4; Romans 8:6-11, and John 11:1-45, printed above.
The question sent out to the group was this: “Lectionary Preachers: thoughts on how to preach Lazarus’ resurrection (in John 11) when we all will need to stay quarantined in our “tombs” for a few weeks/months more?”
One answer: “Preach Jesus grieving with the sisters. Preach God is with us in our grief, grieves with us, values lives, is moved by human pain.”
Another answer: “ Or preach the hope of new life offered in the Ezekial passage.”
But the best answer of all, I thought was this: “Lararus, stay in.”
Having to stay in our homes and limit going out for anything is not exactly a tomb. But I believe we are being called to truly stay in. It’s the only way we are going to defeat this virus. There is a great article in “Vox.com” about the Spanish flu 100 years ago, which killed 500 million people. It was finally overcome by social distancing. This is a good and important read for everyone.
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As I have mulled over all of this it has occurred to me that one of the most important exercises of our Christian faith in this crisis is to discipline ourselves. That includes prayer, scripture reading, eating correctly, getting out in the neighborhood and walking (if we are able), and social distancing. Most every authority has either encouraged or mandated social distancing: governors, mayors, and medical experts. In Holland it’s against the law (with a big fine) to have more than 3 people gather in one place. My cheeky son-in-law texted us saying that he was having to move into a hotel since he and my daughter have two children.
So I’m proposing a more radical social distancing than you might think. I propose only really necessary outings–the grocery store, the pharmacy, the doctor, the gas station. If we really need to run an errand to get something, we should ask, “Can I get this on Amazon.”
There’s not a vaccine in sight, and there is no cure other than to limit our exposure to others who may have the virus. What a pity to catch or pass on the virus when simple social distancing would have prevented it.
During the great plague in Europe Reformer Martin Luther wrote this to a pastor in Leipzig in 1527 :
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
~ Luther’s Works, Volume 43 p. 132, as “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague,”
So Lazarus, stay in. People of God, stay in