Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby

Christ Lutheran Community Church

March 29, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Lazarus and the Coronavirus"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death.”

The dialogue between Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of this story is, I think, one of the more disturbing passages in the Gospels.  Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus, the one that he loves, is gravely ill.  But instead of leaving right away to heal Lazarus, Jesus remains at his home for an additional two days, by which point it’s too late… Lazarus is dead.

Jesus’ somewhat nonchalant attitude toward the illness of his friend seems a little bit like the attitude of some of our political leaders toward the pandemic that our world is facing right now.  “Don’t worry,” we heard some of them say.  “This is nothing to worry about.  It will all be gone by April.” 

Meanwhile, precious time was ticking away… time that could have been spent preparing, building up our stockpile of the equipment and medications that will be needed to prevent the deaths of thousands of people. 

So, we find ourselves echoing the words of Mary and Martha in our pleas to our government leaders, “Sir, if you have been here - if you had been at all attentive to what was happening - my brother, or my sister, or my friend would not have died.”

Now, unlike our political leaders, Jesus did know how everything was going to turn out.  He knew that Lazarus would be raised from death and that this would prove to the world that God is a God of life.  So, from God’s perspective, maybe the death of Lazarus is just an inconvenient little blip in the great story of salvation.

But what about the human perspective?  What about the pain suffered by Lazarus as disease consumed him?  What about the grief suffered by Mary and Martha as they watch their brother slip away into death?

We Christians sometimes have an annoying way of responding to people who have lost a loved one.  Instead of acknowledging their pain, we sometimes dismiss it with platitudes like, “Don’t worry, your mother is in heaven now” or “This was all a part of God’s plan.” 

There is truth to those platitudes.  We know that God is a God of life.  We know that in Christ death has lost its sting.  Or, as the apostle Paul puts it, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”  We have that hope.  But the grief we experience when someone we love dies is still very real and very painful. 

Jesus’ casual attitude toward the death of Lazarus feels a little bit like how we sometimes dismiss the grief of others with our platitudes.   But notice how Jesus’ attitude changes as the story progresses.  At the beginning of the story he seems pretty unphased by Lazarus’ death.  But when he is actually standing at the grave of the one he loves, what does Jesus do?  He weeps. 

Weeps is such an inadequate word to describe what Jesus is doing.  Jesus lets out a groan of indignation from his inmost being.  He is deeply troubled and he bursts into tears as he stands before the tomb.

Mind you: the Gospel of John has already told us that Jesus is God… and all throughout the Gospel Jesus behaves like God.  He performs miracles and he heals and it seems like he is completely in control of the situation.  But here, at the tomb of his loved one, Jesus’ divinity crashes up against Jesus’ humanity.  Here, at the tomb of his loved one, God incarnate, God in human flesh, experiences the grief of loss.  God mourns the same way you and I mourn.

Sisters and brothers, you are the one whom Jesus loves.  The story of Lazarus tells us that God mourns with you and for you.  God experiences the pain and the loss that you experience.  When a virus spreads around the world and ravages human life, God feels that pain in God’s inmost being.  God hears the prayers of a billion people crying out right now. 

The God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is a compassionate God… and none of us is ever alone in our sorrow.

The Gospel could have stopped there, really.  It would have been enough to know that God shares our joys and sorrows.  But the Gospel doesn’t stop with Jesus weeping at the tomb.  After the stone is rolled away, Jesus shouts into the tomb, his breath chasing away the stench of death, “Lazarus, come out!”  And the one whom Jesus loved stands up and comes out of the cave.  Jesus shows us that God is a God of life!

The story of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of something even more profound.  Jesus himself will fall victim to sin and death.  He will die as tragically as so many of our fellow human beings are dying today.  And after Jesus has died, when there is no one left to stand at the tomb and shout away the stench of death, God will do it alone.  God will raise Jesus from the dead and in doing so God will reveal the glorious truth.  Stronger than human sin, stronger than death itself, is life… eternal life in God our redeemer.