Saturday, March 8, 2008

Take Away The Stone!

Happy PST, PDX! Tomrrow will be PDT.

Jesus told them to take away the stone, the stone blocking the entrance to the cave where the grieving sisters had laid their brother Lazarus. It had been four days. In first-century Palestine you were really dead after three days. The soul sometimes hung around the body for two days, never three. That probably also ruled out any comatose people or extended fainting spells. Lazarus was clearly over the limit. Martha, the good housekeeper and detail person, noted what an act of foolishness it was to move the stone. There was already a stench from the inside.

Jesus talked to Martha about faith. And the men in the crowd moved the stone. Jesus called to Lazarus, and the dead man was raised to life. He had to be unbound from his grave clothes.

To begin with, Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in a poor suburb of Jerusalem. Bethany literally means "house of poverty". Jesus liked to hang out here among these humble folk living on the edge. He felt safe and welcome here. The little household of siblings received him and his friends.

So when word reaches Jesus on the road that Lazarus is seriously ill, the sisters hope Jesus high-tails it to their house to heal him. Jesus had healed many, even given sight to a man born blind. But that noble work of healing, especially on Sabbath, had gotten Jesus quite crosswise with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Some had tried to stone him, and he was in danger of arrest or stoning if he returned to Jerusalem and happened to cross paths with the wrong person(s).

Jesus takes his time deciding to return to Bethany and the Jerusalem area. Meanwhile Jazarus dies. Mourners arrive at Mary and Martha's house. Jesus is too late to save Lazarus. The sisters each inform Jesus of their take on things: If Jesus had just arrived sooner, He could have saved the man.

Mary and her mourners are weeping as the dialogue transpires. Jesus asks where Lazarus' body has been interred. They reply, "Come and see." Jesus begins to weep.

That little verse is so often cited as confirmation of Jesus' humanity. He began to cry. He could. He did that in the face of the grief and mourning of his friends.

But we usually overlook the words that come before Jesus' tears: "Come and see."

"Come and see'' could be called John's gospel in a nutshell. Come and see Jesus. Come to believe in Him and have life. Eternal life.

But this encounter in Bethany is the only place in the whole book where things are turned around. Instead of people asking other people to come and see Jesus, now the people ask Jesus to come and see. Come and see the grave where your dead friend is buried. Come and see dashed hopes. Come and see human frailty. Come and see death, God. Come and face it.

Jesus does and Lazarus lives. Again.

The story will be repeated from Good Friday to Easter. When the women set off at dawn to finish preparing Jesus' body for its final rest in the earth they ask, "Who will take away the stone for us?" When they arrive they find it already taken away. The grave clothes are folded as only someone who had finished the job completely would do.

For all that's broken in life let us pray, "Lord, come and see."


Pastor Roger

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