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March 29, 2020
Fifth Sunday in Lent
There’s a meme going around on social media that says “this is the Lentiest Lent I’ve ever Lented.” And there’s truth in that. It’s a season of introspection and intentional examination of our relationship with God. But this year, it’s taken on a whole new meaning.
And as we approach the end of Lent on the calendar, but we’re still faced with staying at home, we’re faced with the question of what it means to anticipate Holy Week and Easter, when it feels like we’ve been stuck in Holy Saturday for at least three weeks already.
We began the season of Lent in ashes on Ash Wednesday, and each week we’ve heard stories of Jesus that keep our focus on the sunrise of Easter – and we’re almost there.
Last week, we heard the story of the man who was born blind receiving his sight. That event continues with images of Jesus as the gate and the shepherd who protects his sheep. And it reaches its peak when the Judeans ask Jesus whether he is the Messiah – and he responds by saying that he and the Father are one.
At that point, the Judeans took up stones to stone him. Jesus continued the conversation and escaped across the Jordan River when they tried to arrest him. But he went back toward Jerusalem soon after that to be with Mary and Martha and Lazarus.
In John’s gospel, the resurrection of Lazarus is the sign that set the wheels in motion for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The momentum toward that had been building because the number of people who came to believe in Jesus increased with each sign that he performed.
And for the chief priests and the Pharisees, this one was the proverbial last straw. So, out of fear for what the Roman government might do to them, the Jewish leaders gave orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they could arrest him.
But for Jesus, and for John the gospel writer, the focus of this particular sign wasn’t so much about raising someone from the dead. For Jesus, it was about glorifying God, like he’d done in all his other signs; and for John, it was about believing in everything Jesus represents as the Messiah.
I’ve said before that in John’s gospel, believing in Jesus means being in relationship with him. It means loving him and being loved by him. It doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen. Jesus didn’t prevent Lazarus from dying – but he was there with the family in their grief and wept with them.
And then he ordered the stone to be taken away, and in the midst of the most deeply painful human experience, God was glorified. God’s presence was made visible. Life came out of death – a full and abundant life. Reminding us that death isn’t the end of the story.
We most often hear Jesus’ words “I am the resurrection and the life…” at funerals. In that setting, they’re a comforting and powerful assurance of hope that death isn’t the end and that we will see our loved ones again.
But most of us know that the end of a life isn’t the only type of death that can happen: relationships fall apart; life dreams have to go by the wayside. A pandemic completely changes the way we live and interact with each other. And sometimes these things are resolved quickly.
But sometimes, as we’re experiencing now, they drag on without an end in sight.
And in times like this, we remember that the promise of Scripture is that this isn’t the end of the story. The dry bones in the valley came together one by one and lived again.
And Lazarus, who’d been dead for four days, was called by Jesus and walked out of the tomb. When everyone else had given up hope, Jesus came to the tomb and brought new life to Lazarus. When everyone else said the story was over, Jesus brought them to a new chapter called “resurrection.” And not long after, Jesus was raised by God on the third day after his own death.
The cross wasn’t the end of the story. And this pandemic isn’t the end of our story. But that doesn’t mean it makes any of this easier in the moment.
For a lot of people, the “stay at home” order is a minor inconvenience. But for some, it’s the difference between life and death. Families aren’t able to visit each other. People are losing their jobs. Small businesses are folding. We aren’t able to worship together. We even have to be careful and maintain a safe distance when we do go out anywhere.
We know this isn’t the end of the story. But sometimes this particular chapter of the story is just plain tough. And because we know Jesus shows up and is walking with us to the next chapter, we look for the glimpses of his presence.
We see his face in the people who go to the store for us and leave the groceries on our porch so that physical distance is maintained. We feel his touch in the cards and notes we receive from people. We hear his voice in the prayers that others pray on our behalf.
As we look towards the end of Lent and anticipate Holy Week and Easter, we’re experiencing in very tangible ways what it means to hold onto the promise of resurrection. And as we hold onto that, we remember that we aren’t the ones in the tomb – we’re the ones on the outside waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.
And as we wait, as we grieve not being together, and that “normal” has been pulled out from under us, and that our routines and lives have been upended – we remember that this isn’t the end of the story. We remember that there’s another chapter coming. And with Jesus, that next chapter is resurrection. Amen.