Fifth Sunday in Lent – Raising of Lazarus

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Proper 23, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost October 14, 2012 Sermon, Proper 23, Year B Amos 5:6-7. 10-15; Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10: 17-31
Proper 22, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 7, 2012 Proper 22, Year B Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
Proper 21, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 30, 2012 Sermon, Proper 21, Year B James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50
Proper 20, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 23, 2012 Proper 20, Year B James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Proper 19, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 16, 2012 Proper 19, Year B Mark 8:27-38
Proper 18, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 9, 2012 Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37 Proper 18, Year B
Proper 17, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 2, 2012 Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 5-9; James 1:17-27 Sermon, Proper 17, Year B
Proper 16, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost August 26, 2012 Proper 16, Year B Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69
Proper 15, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost August 19, 2012 Proper 15, Year B Proverbs 9:1-6, Psalm 34:9-14, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58
Proper 14, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost August 12, 2012 Sermon, Proper 14, Year B I Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
Proper 13, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost August 5, 2012 Proper 13, Year B Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Proper 12, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost July 29, 2012 Proper 12, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Proper 11, Eighth Sunday After Pentecost July 22, 2012 Proper 11, Year B Psalm 23; Mark 6:30-34, 53-36
Proper 10, Seventh Sunday After Pentecost July 15, 2012 Proper 10, Seventh Sunday After Pentecost Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:1-13
Proper 9, Sixth Sunday After Pentecost July 8, 2012 Sermon, Proper 9, Year B 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13


Fifth Sunday in Lent – Raising of Lazarus

Sermon Date:April 10, 2011

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45

Liturgy Calendar: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The call came in the middle of the night.


“Could you come over?  Dad just died.”


So I got up and got dressed and went to the home of one of my favorite Hospice families.  In this family, both of the parents had received hospice care together for about two years as they struggled with COPD and with lung cancer.  The mother had died earlier that year. 


The house was very quiet; a holy, clean silence.  I went into the little bedroom. 


The walls, painted a lovely spring green by the family not too many months before, glowed in the dim light, and I felt as if I had entered a peaceful garden. 


My patient lay on the bed, seemingly asleep.  I took his hand and sat with him awhile, saying my goodbyes, so grateful for this last time with a person I had come to love in the hours of conversation and laughter and music that I had shared with this  loving family over the past two years.


I grieved over the fact that those times of fellowship were now drawing to a close.    


When I came out of the bedroom, the son and I spoke in low voices, so as not to disturb that holy silence that filled the house. 


Later, the son told me that the hardest thing to get used to as he and his family adjusted to life without his parents living in the house was the silence.


 Both of the parents had used oxygen for a long, long time, so the constant background sound in the house had been a soft ker-woosh coming from two different machines, over and over, the sound of constantly recurring breath, reassuring the family that the two patients were able to breathe adequately.   


At first, the son had trouble sleeping without that background sound.  He’d wake up, thinking something was wrong, something was missing.  And then it would all come back to him.  Both his parents dead, no more oxygen machines needed. 


And his own holy silence.  What would he do now that he wasn’t caring for his parents full time?  His life was going to change radically.  In the dark, he’d lie there in the silence with a big question mark in his mind. 

“What now?  How do I live with this hole in my life?”


Death is like that—leaving in its wake a vast  holy silence, full of potential, but one that also threatens to suck us up and kill us too; a silence that challenges us, puzzles us.

And so the toughest question that we just have to ask ourselves about the story we just heard from the gospel according to John is this.


If Jesus could have spared Martha, Mary and Lazarus the grief of Lazarus’ death by showing up on time and healing Lazarus, why didn’t he just do that?


 Don’t you think healing would have been the kindest thing to do all the way around, even for Jesus, who was also filled with grief over the death of the one that the scripture tells us Jesus loved?


 Jesus loved Lazarus, and yet Jesus let Lazarus die; left him to enter the holy silence of the grave.  


I’ve talked before about the fact that we live in a time of now, and not yet.  God’s kingdom has come on earth because God has come to us as one of us—The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, as John tells us at the beginning of his gospel.


And yet, God’s work is not yet complete, We live within the now, and as Christians, we can see and sometimes experience, just fleetingly, the glories of the “not yet,”  the kingdom of heaven come down to earth.


John describes this time of not yet, the time we wait for, in the great book of Revelation in Chapter 21.

“See, the home of God is among mortals—among US!

He will dwell with us! 


We will be his peoples!


And God will be with us in person!


God  will wipe every tear from our eyes!


Death will be no more!


Mourning and crying and pain will be no more!


For the first things have passed away!”


In his time on earth, Jesus, the Son of God, dwelt among us as a human being, a human being so in tune with God that he lived and acted in accordance to God’s timetable, not his own. 


After all, Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. 


Even so, how tempted Jesus must have been  to circumvent God’s plan, and God’s timing, and just go to Bethany and heal Lazarus, to keep things as they were, to do his friends a favor.


Instead, Jesus chooses to accept God’s timing and God’s plan, in spite of the fact that he must know that much grief and pain and sorrow will be the result of the waiting—not only for Mary and Martha, but for himself as well.


Jesus tells the disciples that the illness of Lazarus is for God’s glory, and so they wait to go back to Bethany for two more days.


When Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet and says to him,

“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died,” the scripture tells us that Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 


Jesus wept. 


Everyone could see his grief and sorrow.


So they go to the tomb of Lazarus.  A stone blocks the entrance to the cave.


The tomb is dark, and silent within. 


“Take away the stone,” Jesus ordered.


And then Jesus prays to God—God whose plan and timing this is.


And Jesus cries out in a loud voice,

“Lazarus, come out!”


And Lazarus, far beyond the grave, having already entered eternal life, long gone from earth, his body already decaying,


hears that voice of love, the very voice of God in the holy silence of death, echoing across time and eternity,


calling him back to the imperfect world he once knew in what must have seemed to be so long ago, in what was truly another lifetime.  


When Lazarus responds to the voice, and comes out of the tomb, Jesus gives directions to the witnesses of this miracle. 


“Unbind him, and let him go.”   Lazarus will not be completely free from the trappings of death until others remove his grave wrappings and set him free. 


On the surface, life returns to normal.  Lazarus resumes his life, his sisters have their brother’s life restored, and Jesus has his friend back with him in the flesh. 


But beneath the surface, everything is different.


In  the holy  silence they experience in the wake of their brother’s death, Martha and Mary come to a deeper understanding of who Jesus really is, the One so interwoven with God that he prays only for God’s plan, not his own.

Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Son of God. 


They have heard the voice of God, calling Lazarus back into life.

And many others believe as well.


But some of the people who see Lazarus come from the tomb go to the temple authorities to report what has happened.


So the temple authorities meet, and consider what to do next.


“What are we to do?” they say to one another. 


“This man is performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the temple and our nation.”


“So from that day,” the scripture tells us, “They planned to put him to death.” 


By restoring the life of Lazarus, Jesus contributed to the events that would lead to his own arrest and crucifixion and resurrection not long afterward–


The crucifixion and resurrection that make it possible for each one of us to hear God’s voice calling us into the joys of the time of “not yet” –God’s kingdom here on earth here and now, even in this moment. 

And the story of the raising of Lazarus gives us some pointers about how to live in the kingdom of God here and now.

The  meaning of the name Bethany, the village where Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, means “afflicted.”


We, just given the fact that we are human beings, are all afflicted.  Either we have been deeply afflicted, we are being deeply afflicted right now, or we will, inevitably, be afflicted. 


We, like Lazarus, find ourselves dead, sealed up in silent tombs—often tombs of our own making.  We go through our lives in silence, deaf to the voice of God calling us.


And so, here’s what we can do for ourselves and one another;  two responsibilities for us as a community of the faithful, and two for each of us individually as we seek that joy and freedom and life that God wants us to have. 


The responsibilities that we take on as the community of the faithful are the bookends that hold together and give shape to our individual tasks.


The first bookend for us as the community of the faithful is to roll away the stones that keep us imprisoned, the stones that block the voice of God from reaching us.  We can roll away these stones by “speaking the truth in love and being loving presences to one another even in our disagreements.    


Within the bookends we find our individual responsibilities.

First, develop a life of prayer as Jesus did.  Pray constantly that what you are praying for is what God already longs to give you.


The Lord’s Prayer puts it so succinctly—


“Thy kingdom come, THY will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”  We pray for God’s will to be done in each one of our lives. 


Second, listen for God’s voice, even in the silence of whatever tomb you find yourself in—that silence allows you to hear God’s voice calling to you across time and eternity, calling you to live fully in this imperfect world, in the time of “not yet,” trusting that God will be with you—to come back into the fullness of life, held in God’s love, God’s kingdom in the here and now.


The other bookend holding our individual prayers and listening together is that when one of us hears God’s voice and comes out of the tomb, then this community of faith is given the privilege of helping to unbind and release those of us who have been entombed.  We get to help release that person into the new life of God’s freedom and joy. 


God does the calling.  We get to pray and to listen.  We get to help one another by moving away the stones and the grave wrappings that bind us and hold us captive the silence of the tomb.

Today, if you stand on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and look across the Kidron Valley to the next hillside, the Mount of Olives, you will see a huge cemetery, made up of tombs the color of the earth, a golden brownish tan, the color of bones,  full of dry bones, stretching for miles.  In fact, this area is covered with cemeteries of people of all faiths, because many believe that the Kidron is the valley in which all of humanity will come together on the last day to be judged by God.


And so the dry bones lie in wait.


But we know from this story of Lazarus that if we pray and listen, believing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we will hear his voice now, calling us out into new life. 

Like the dry bones in Ezekiel, we will feel the breath of God. We will hear the voice of God, coming from every corner of the earth, calling us out of our graves.


And we will  know that God is the Lord, and that we are God’s people,


That God wants to breathe the new life of the spirit into us,


To bring us safely to our own soil, the kingdom of heaven come to earth, the place of joy and freedom that God has prepared for us, even here and even now, even  in the not yet.   



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