The Fifth Sunday in Lent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

ON ONE OF MY TRIPS TO ISRAEL, I BECAME FRIENDLY WITH THE GUIDE FROM THE MINISTRY OF TOURISM. HE WAS A SECULAR JEW BORN IN ISRAEL, BUT VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE OF THE HOLY LAND SITES AND THEIR HISTORY. HE WAS A JOKESTER AND WISEGUY, SO I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY WE HIT IT OFF. TOWARDS THE END OF THE TOUR, WE WERE ON TOP OF MASSADA, THE LAST STRONGHOLD OF THE JEWISH REVOLT AGAINST ROME. WE WERE IN THE SYNAGOGUE LOOKING AT THE TORAH ARK, WHEN HE SAID, “THE ONLY SCRAP OF TORAH FOUND BY THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS WAS A PIECE FROM EZEKIEL 37;” THE SAME ONE YOU HEARD READ THIS MORNING. AS I STOOD THERE, I THOUGHT ABOUT HOW, AFTER THE TOTAL DESTRUCTION OF THE NATION, THE CENTURIES OF DIASPORA AND PERSECUTION, THE GAS CHAMBERS AND FIRES OF THE CREMATORIA, ISRAEL HAD RETURNED TO THE LAND PROMISED BY GOD. I THOUGHT ABOUT HOW THE DESERT BLOOMED, WITH FRUIT AND VEGETABLES EXPORTED AROUND THE WORLD, AND ABOUT THE FREE, AND OFTEN CONTENTIOUS, SOCIETY OF ISRAEL, SO I ASKED HIM POINT BLANK, “HOW CAN YOU NOT BELIEVE?” HE REPLIED WITH A CONFUSED, “WHAT?” I SAID, “LOOK AT YOUR NATION; WHAT MORE MUST GOD DO TO PROVE HIS PROMISES CAN BE TRUSTED?” HE RESPONDED WITH A SHRUG OF HIS SHOULDERS, AND OUR RELATIONSHIP WAS MUCH MORE SUBDUED AFTER THAT.

TWO PEOPLE CAN SEE THE SAME EVENT AND FROM IT DRAW ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS; WHICH BRINGS ME TO THE STORY OF LAZARUS, THE LAST OF OUR LONG GOSPEL READINGS FOR LENT. IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO VISIT THE TOMB OF LAZARUS, WHICH IS HEWN OUT OF A NATURAL CAVE WITH A CHURCH BUILT ON TOP OF IT. IF YOU EVER GET TO VISIT CYPRUS, YOU SHOULD GO SEE IT. I SUPPOSE YOU WERE THINKING OF THE TOMB IN BETHANY, IN THE WEST BANK, WHICH I HAVE VISITED. WELL, LAZARUS WAS CALLED OUT OF THAT ONE, BUT HE WAS CARRIED OUT OF HIS TOMB ON CYPRUS.

ACCORDING TO THE ORTHODOX TRADITION, LAZARUS FLED AFTER THE ASCENSION, BECAUSE THOSE WHO KILLED JESUS WERE AFTER HIM AS WELL. HE WENT TO CYPRUS, WHERE SAINT PAUL, ON HIS FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY, ANOINTED HIM BISHOP OF CYPRUS. THERE HE LIVED UNHAPPILY FOR THE NEXT THIRTY YEARS. HE WAS HAUNTED, HE CLAIMED, BY THE MEMORY OF ALL THOSE HE HAD SEEN IN HADES WHILE HE WAS DEAD, BECAUSE HE COULD NOT BRING THEM THE GOSPEL OF JESUS. HE DIED AND WAS BURIED IN CYPRUS. WHEN THE ARMY OF ISLAM ATTACKED CYPRUS, LAZARUS’ BONES WERE GATHERED IN A BAG AND TAKEN TO CONSTANTINOPLE AND ENTOMBED AGAIN; UNTIL THE CRUSADERS PILLAGED THE CITY AND CARRIED HIS BONES OFF TO MARSEILLES, FRANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HIS TOMB THERE, WHERE THEY CLAIM TO STILL HAVE HIS HEAD; THE REST OF POOR LAZARUS HAVING BEEN GIVEN OR SOLD AS RELICS. THIS IS THE ONLY TOMB OF LAZARUS THAT MIGHT HAVE SOME OF HIM IN IT.

WHY DID JESUS DELAY IN RUSHING TO LAZARUS WHEN HE HEARD THAT HE WAS ILL? THE ANSWER IS IN WHAT HE TOLD HIS DISCIPLES; “FOR YOUR SAKE, I AM GLAD I WAS NOT THERE, SO THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE.” THIS IS A POOR TRANSLATION IN ENGLISH OF WHAT JESUS SAID; WHAT HE SAID WAS, “SO THAT YOU MIGHT TRUST (PISTOS).” THIS IS NOT A TRIVIAL DIFFERENCE; WHAT JESUS IS GOING TO DO IS TO PROVIDE HIS DISCIPLES, AND OTHERS, WITH A SIGN THAT MIGHT HELP THEM TRUST IN THE PROMISE AND POWER OF ALMIGHTY GOD THAT IS ONLY TO BE FOUND IN HIM. THIS IS REINFORCED BY THE DIALOG OF JESUS AND MARTHA. WHEN JESUS TELLS HER THAT HER BROTHER WILL RISE AGAIN, SHE RESPONDS THAT SHE KNOWS HE WILL RISE AT THE LAST DAY. JESUS THEN SAYS, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. THOSE WHO TRUST IN ME, EVEN THOUGH THEY DIE, WILL LIVE, AND EVERYONE WHO LIVES AND TRUSTS IN ME WILL NEVER DIE. DO YOU TRUST THIS?” TO WHICH MARTHA RESPONDS, “YES, LORD, I BELIEVE (PEPISTEUKA) THAT YOU ARE THE MESSIAH.” MARTHA HOLDS THE PROPOSITION THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH TO BE TRUE, BUT THAT IS NOT THE SAME AS TRUSTING IN HIM.

SO JESUS DOES WHAT HE CAME THERE TO DO, AND CALLS LAZARUS OUT OF THE FIRST OF HIS MANY TOMBS, AND, BECAUSE OF THIS, MANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO CAME WITH MARY AND HAD SEEN WHAT JESUS DID, BELIEVED IN HIM. THEY BELIEVED HIM THE SAME WAY THAT MARTHA BELIEVED IN HIM; THEY HELD THE PROPOSITION THAT HE RAISED LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD TO BE TRUE; WHICH IS NOT AT ALL THE SAME AS TRUSTING IN JESUS. IF WE WERE TO READ ON A BIT MORE IN JOHN’S ACCOUNT, WE WOULD FIND THAT EVEN THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES BELIEVED THAT JESUS RAISED LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD, BUT THAT BELIEF MADE THEM WANT TO KILL JESUS. RATHER THAN TRUST IN THE PROMISE AND POWER OF GOD IN JESUS. THEY HAD TO KILL HIM, BECAUSE HE THREATENED EVERYTHING THEY THOUGHT THEY KNEW, AND EVERYTHING THEY HELD DEAR. THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS WAS THE ONE THING THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES COULD NOT ABIDE, AND LED DIRECTLY TO THE DEATH OF JESUS ON THE CROSS.

JESUS DELAYED IN COMING TO BETHANY SO THAT HE WOULD BE ABLE TO GIVE HIS DISCIPLES, MARTHA AND MARY, AND ALL THE PEOPLE OF JUDEA THIS FINAL SIGN OF THE POWER AND PROMISE OF GOD WHICH CAN BE FOUND ONLY IN HIM. WHEN HE STOOD OUTSIDE OF LAZARUS’ TOMB, HE WEPT. PERHAPS HE WEPT BECAUSE DEATH IS NO LIGHT MATTER. PERHAPS HE WEPT BECAUSE WHAT HE WAS ABOUT TO DO WOULD LEAD DIRECTLY TO HIS OWN PASSION AND DEATH. PERHAPS HE WEPT BECAUSE, EVEN WITH THIS MOST AWESOME SIGN OF THE PROMISE OF GOD IN HIM, SOME PEOPLE WOULD BELIEVE, BUT STILL NOT TRUST IN HIM. HIS TRUST IN HIS FATHER NEVER WAVERED, SO HE COMMANDED, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!” WITH HIS WORD, THE DEAD MAN CAME OUT OF HIS TOMB.

“IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD,” IS HOW JOHN BEGINS HIS GOSPEL, AND, HERE, IN THIS SIGN, WE SEE JUST WHAT IT MEANS THAT THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH. HE WHO CREATED ALL THINGS, TO WHOM ALL THINGS BELONG, AND TO WHOM ALL THINGS WILL RETURN, WALKED WITH US, ATE WITH US, SHARED ALL OUR BURDENS, EVEN UNTO THE DEATH WE ALL MUST FACE. THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF LIFE, AND THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS IS THE SIGN THAT THE FIRST WORD OF ALL CREATION IS ALSO THE LAST WORD OVER ALL CREATION. THE WORD OF GOD PROCLAIMS TO US WITH ALL THE PROMISE AND POWER OF GOD THAT, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.” THE ULTIMATE SIGN OF THE PROMISE AND POWER OF GOD IS IN THE PERSON OF JESUS. THE ULTIMATE QUESTION FOR ME, FOR YOU, FOR EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD WHO LIVES OR EVER WILL TAKE BREATH IS SIMPLY THIS: “DO YOU TRUST THIS?”
AMEN

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