HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 139:1-12
GOSPEL LESSON John 11:1-45
SERMON: “The Resurrection of the Body”
Quite a few years ago, a letter appeared in the national news that was sent to a deceased person by the Indiana Department of Social Services that said: Your food stamps will be stopped effective March, 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances. Well, except for an occasional Lazarus, there haven’t been too many who have seen a change in those circumstances! The powerful story in John 11 is one of the few occasions on record. Mary and Martha, who live in Bethany, are some of Jesus’ closest friends. They send word to him that their brother, Lazarus, is desperately ill. “Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast.” But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died and has been in his grave for four days. John tells us that Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem and many friends and neighbors had come to comfort Mary and Martha. It is still customary in Jewish families to “sit shiva” with the family after the death of a loved one. The word “shiva” comes from the Hebrew for the number seven, and the official shiva period lasts seven days starting with the day of the funeral. So Jesus joined the family and community as they were “sitting shiva.” Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation, or remain silent if the mourners do not do so, out of respect for their bereavement. Once engaged in conversation by the mourners, it is appropriate for visitors to talk about the deceased, sharing stories of his or her life. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they are filled with grief: “He’s gone. We’ve lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died.” John tells us that along with all the other mourners, Jesus wept. For all of you who struggle to memorize any scripture, this is your verse. It is the shortest in the whole Bible: John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.” It is more profound than we might think, as it tells us that in the midst of our troubles, Jesus is there, going through our troubles with us. It can be a bit daunting for seminary students the first time they are given the opportunity to administer the sacraments. One young ministerial student went over to the chapel of the church where he was doing an internship on a Sunday morning to serve Communion. He had never served communion alone before and he was anxious. The church had a communion ritual printed on a laminated card. It started with the Invitation to Communion, followed by the prayers and then just before the people would come forward to receive communion, the minister would stand, face the congregation and say, “Hear these words of comfort from the scriptures.” But there was a blank there on the communion card so the minister in charge could at that point quote a favorite verse. When they got to this point in the service, the young seminary student stood and said, “Hear these words of comfort from the scriptures...” And then he went absolutely blank. There was a long pause, and then he blurted out the only verse he could think of at the moment: “Jesus wept.”
He felt awful until one of the members came up to him after the service and said to him, “When you quoted that verse, ‘Jesus wept,’ that was so meaningful to me because it made me suddenly realize that… the Healer of our pain is the feeler of our pain!” The older I get the better my forgetter gets, but as long as I live I will never forget one Sunday morning in White Pigeon. It was late August. About 11:00 p.m. the night before I received a phone call from the aunt of one of our recent high school graduates, Sarah. Sarah had been in a car accident when she was out on a date Saturday night. The car in which she was a passenger was hit broadside by a vehicle that ran a stop sign on one of the back roads. Her date was not seriously injured, but Sarah had a closed head injury and was in critical condition at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, about 40 miles away. I quickly dressed, drove to the hospital, and found the family in the E.R. We prayed and we waited, and we prayed some more. Knowing that I had to lead worship in a few hours, the family sent me home about 6:00 a.m. I took a quick nap and then got ready for church. I didn’t know how emotionally involved I was until the moment came for me to tell the congregation what had happened. Suddenly my throat tightened and the tears began to flow. Afterwards, I apologized to a group of church members during coffee hour for breaking down. One of the women said to me, “If you had announced that to us without a tear, we would have thought you didn’t care. Your tears told us of your love and compassion for the family. You are one of us.” Jesus is one of us. He smiles when we smile and he weeps when we weep. Jesus then asked where the body has been laid and when they arrived at the tomb he told them to remove the stone. Practical Martha objects, citing the fact that the body has been in the tomb for four days, and by now it surely stinks in there.
Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
“Then to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”
“They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, ‘Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here, I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.’
“Then he shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.
“Jesus told them, ‘Unwrap him and let him loose.”
The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a physical demonstration of God’s power and plan to put death to death. God’s power to raise the dead removes the sting and pain of death. This miracle was performed to remind people of all ages, including all of us here today, that those who trust in God will have new life! It teaches us that death is not the end, but the beginning of life with God.
In his book, Improve Your Serve Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Let’s play ‘Let’s Pretend’. Let’s pretend that you work for me. In fact, you are my executive assistant in a company that is growing rapidly. I’m the owner and I’m interested in expanding overseas. To pull this off, I make plans to travel abroad and stay there until a new branch office gets established. I make all the arrangements to take my family and move to Europe for six to eight months. And I leave you in charge of the busy stateside organization. I tell you that I will write you regularly and give you directions and instructions. I leave and you stay. Months pass. A flow of letters are mailed from Europe and received by you at the national headquarters. I spell out all my expectations. Finally, I return. Soon after my arrival, I drive down to the office and I am stunned. Grass and weeds have grown up high. A few windows along the street are broken. I walk into the Receptionist’s room. She is doing her nails, chewing gum and listening to her favorite disco station. I look around and notice the wastebaskets are overflowing. The carpet hasn’t been vacuumed for weeks, and nobody seems concerned that the owner has returned. I asked about your whereabouts and someone in the crowded lounge area points down the hall and yells, “I think he’s down there.” Disturbed, I move in that direction and bump into you as you are finishing a chess game with our sales manager. I ask you to step into my office, which has been temporarily turned into a television room for watching afternoon soap operas. “What in the world is going on, man?” “What do you mean?” “Well, look at this place! Didn’t you get any of my letters?” “Letters? Oh yes! Sure! I got every one of them. As a matter of fact, we have had a letter study every Friday since you left. We have even divided the personnel into small groups to discuss many of the things you wrote. Some of the things were really interesting. You will be pleased to know that a few of us have actually committed to memory some of your sentences and paragraphs. One or two memorized an entire letter or two - Great stuff in those letters.”
“OK. You got my letters. You studied them and meditated on them; discussed and even memorized them. But what did you do about them?” “Do? We didn’t do anything about them.”
God’s word is clear that there is resurrection. There is new life, eternal life in Christ. What are you doing about that?