Sunday March 29, 2020 The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Cycle A)
The tie in between today’s readings: Coming back
In a world where the only certain things are death and taxes, man’s mortality is his biggest problem. For him, it’s a hopeless situation. Weak in his flesh, he sins. Sin results in death. Death is final. He Exercises! He uses medicine! He develops technologies! Nothing works! No matter how hard he tries, he can only, at best, postpone his inevitable fate as worm food. His religions cannot even save his soul in the afterlife. They are all flawed with one fatal assumption: good works may cancel out evil ones. The cosmos has no exchange for these efforts. The law of loving with all your heart, soul, and mind requires good acts from all of us in the first place. So, there is no quid pro quo. He will face the judgement, be found guilty, and then sentenced to the punishment of the eternal second death.
His short life affords him a choice. A choice that he must make. He can despair and resign himself to the unavoidable: “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!” Many go this route. Another option is to look beyond himself and cry out to an Almighty God for help. That is the case in our reading for today in Psalm 130:1-8. This man believes that there is a chance. The Psalmist opens with an appeal to the Lord for his situation. He admits his sin guilt without excuse and looks for forgiveness. After this, there is nothing left to do, and he leaves his petition in God’s hands as he hopes and waits for an answer. Fortunately for him, the Lord responds in today’s reading in Ezekiel 37:12-14. God promises to take mankind’s predicament head on. He will put His Spirit into him, open his graves, and bring him to life. The Lord has declared it! He will do it! All that is left is to wait in hope.
Martha and Mary were hoping and waiting, but Jesus purposely delayed. By the time He arrives on the scene their brother, Lazarus, is four days dead. Martha goes out to meet Him. Our gospel reading in John 11:1-45 continues:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would still be alive. Even now, I know when you’re near, it’s never too late.”
“Martha,” Jesus answers, “Your bother will rise again.”
“Yes, Jesus. I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day. I understand hope and wait.”
“No, Martha, I AM the resurrection and the life. I’m talking about here and now!”
Martha confesses her faith in Jesus as the Christ and goes to get her sister. Mary comes out to meet Jesus with an army of mourners behind her. She falls at His feet and, through her tears, repeats the mantra of the week: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would still be alive.”
Deeply moved, Jesus asks, “Where have you laid him?” She gets up still crying and leads Him on. The crowd follows. Martha trails behind. It’s one large sobbing mass reminiscent of mankind on his own parade route of doom and despair. Jesus is in their midst. He weeps too. They reach the tomb. It’s a cave containing what’s left of their brother. A boulder defiantly guards the entrance and halts their procession.
“Move that stone,” the Lord of Glory commands.
“But, Jesus,” Martha objects, “He’s too far gone.”
“Here and now, Martha, remember? Here and now.”
The rock is removed. Jesus prays to His Father. He summons the same power that stilled the waves and calmed the storm. With a loud voice he orders, “Lazarus, come forth.” The dead man complies.
In less than a week, the Lord Jesus Christ will die and trade places with his friend Lazarus and all of us who will believe on Him for eternal life. That, my friend is the key to the whole redemption story. Our epistle in Romans 8:8-11 goes on to explain it. Even though man in his sinful nature deserves to die physically and spiritually, those of us who, by faith, will place themselves with Jesus on the cross will live forever. Being placed into Christ’s death spiritually identifies us with His resurrection. The Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead physically gives us new life spiritually…here and now. When we do die, we may be absent from the body, but we’ll be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). God will finish the process when He gives us new bodies in the resurrection on the last day. It’s not so much hope and wait anymore, but the already and the not yet, instead. God has solved man’s biggest problem through Jesus Christ. Leave despair! Believe on Him for eternal life here and now! Take Him as your Lord…your Savior…your hope.