I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me,
even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me
will never die
(11:25-26).

Some help Jesus is.
At least from Martha and Mary’s perspective.
They had sent word
that something was wrong,
that Lazarus was ill.

And now the one they call Rabbi,
the one they call Lord,
Son of God,
Messiah—
the one anointed to redeem,
if not care for them—
shows up late.
Utters a complicated, convoluted, circumspect
summary of what he offers people,
supposedly offers his beloved friend.

Meanwhile, Lazarus is dead.
Long dead.
Four days dead.
Which
according to contemporary Rabbinic teaching,
means
everything that made Lazarus,
Lazarus
is gone.
His soul may have lingered for three days,
but now it is completely gone.
There is nothing left of him.
But bones.
And flesh decaying in Mediterranean heat.
Stench.
Sealed in a tomb.
With no chance at life.

If you noticed one thing about this Gospel,
I bet you noticed its length.
Your legs felt tired.
Or, your mind wandered.
You might have wished we’d cut
all the details.
Proclaimed only that moment when Jesus shouts,
“Lazarus, come out!”

That miraculous moment when this dead man,
who even though the stone had long been rolled away,
steps out of the tomb only when he hears Jesus’ voice.
Hands, feet, face wrapped in cloth.
And those memorable words to the gathered
crowd,
“unbind him and let him go.”

Forty-four long verses of drawn out, excruciating detail,
all cut down to two brief phrases
offering precious few details
about this miracle no one present contests.

Why not read just that final part?
Sing a hymn.
Recite a creed.
Pray some prayers.
And get on with the mass.
But, you see, the marvelous is not what is important.
What is crucial is that Jesus has given life
against all odds
and in the face of every shred
of drawn-out, excruciating evidence to the contrary—
even sure and certain drawn out,
locked-in-a-tomb,
with-the-stench-of-death
death.

The point is not so much that
Jesus has given physical life to Lazarus
—that’s nothing—
but has given physical life
as a sign of his power to give eternal life
now,
this side of the grave.

That is, life, eternal life
like he offered Nicodemus:
life now in the power of the spirit.

Life, eternal life, l
ike he offered the Samaritan woman:
living water from the well.

Life, eternal life, l
ike he offered the man born blind,
who saw light for the first time.
Which, put in a biblical way,
rather than a scientific way,
means he can separate light from darkness.

Life, eternal life, now.
For the living of these days.

After these several weeks in Lent;
one story after another about life, eternal life—
four signs, to be exact
proclaimed among us
of twelve signs total
in Saint John’s Gospel—
its probably time to stop and wonder
why all the focus on
Spirit-born,
water logged,
bright as day,
life from life,
eternal life,
now.

The answer is in the community behind the text.
The community for which Saint John’s Gospel was written.
A community that knew a
tremendous amount of struggle,
pain,
even the pain of death,
in long, drawn out, excruciating detail.
A community in desperate need of life.
Now.
They were synagogue-going, Sabbath-observing Jews;
who,
because of some experience with the resurrected Christ,
also gathered together on Sundays.
The arrangement worked quite well, for a while.
Until it didn’t.

When, at some point, that arrangement came to
a head,
their triune-concept of God
not quite aligning with monotheism
as understood by their sisters and brothers.

Literally, their sisters and brothers.
Mothers and fathers.
Friends, neighbors.
This was a familial, societal ordeal.

And at some point
they were either thrown out,
or they chose to leave,
or the pressure became too great
that they had no choice but to leave.
their beloved synagogue.
Driven out in some way,
like the man born blind.

Families were ripped apart.
Friends separated, one from the other.
The social fabric of society, torn in two.

From the perspective of the majority,
as well as the minority,
however you told the story,
these few were,
to use a one-word phrase,
dead.
In our context
of religious choice
and vast religious freedom,
we cannot even begin to fathom
what this separation meant.
Saint John’s Gospel,
both in its polemical
as well as its irenic moments,
affords us but a hint
of the pain of this sort of separation.

A pain epitomized in the loss of
one thing more important than all else;
one thing they had no chance of taking with them;
one thing they longed for and needed more than anything else,
but had no choice but to leave behind.

Torah.
Specifically, their one whole community’s beloved Torah scrolls.
The central word of God.
The law.
And then the scrolls of the prophets.
Like the prophet Ezekiel,
who spoke to the dry bones of their once exiled ancestors:
“Hear the word of the Lord.”
And in hearing the word of the Lord had life—
life, however faint;
sinews, even;
some breath
life enough for now.

These disciples.
Beloved disciples.
Had none of that.
Only the memory of the last time
they sang as the scrolls
passed through the Synagogue,
heard their words of life,
and saw these words of life
return to their resting place,
the doors of the ark closed.
Shut up.

A day.
Four days.
Years.
A long time.

There was much to mourn.
Without those words of life.
As good as dead.

No wonder when their wise and good shepherd
sought to write this Gospel,
he began with the words,
“In the beginning.”
And told the story of “the beginning.”
And the Word’s activity in creating all things in the beginning.
And their beginning.

No wonder these signs.
These twelve signs.
Are filled with Spirit.
Spirit hovering over water.
And water and wine.
And water from a well.
And light and darkness.
And people fashioned by mud and the stuff of breath.

No wonder there are new commandments,
poetic re-articulations of the first.
And transfiguration with law giver and prophet.
And promises to all people.

For this community was as good as dead.
And received in this new scroll the words of life.
New life.
Eternal life.
This side of the grave.

Which is why this life,
this eternal life Jesus promises
is so critical.

Saint John tells us
that in response to this
long, drawn out,
excruciatingly detailed,
account of the loss of life
“Jesus is greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (11:33);
mourns, weeps (11:35)
in response to this tremendous pain.

The original greek (ἐτάραξεν) has the sense of
anger, indignation.
The verb tarassein is used in two other instances.
When the disciples
learn of Jesus’ own imminent death (14:1, 27);
and in describing Jesus reaction
to the thought of being betrayed by Judas
into whose heart Satan had entered (13:21).

Put succinctly,
Jesus is angry at the work of death,
angry, indignant at the work of Satan and any evil in the world.
Be it
division,
separation,
hatred,
religious discord,
strife.

Much to the contrary
of the many ways Saint John’s Gospel
has been used to divide people along all sorts of line,
here we see as clear as day that
God is greatly disturbed, deeply moved,
even angry, indignant
at the work of such darkness in the world.

Which is why this life,
this eternal life Jesus promises,
is essential,
in a world
that deems some of us valuable and others of us valueless;
essential in a time
when creation itself is consumed to the benefit of a few,
and to the peril of the many now and in the time to come.

Which is why this life,
this eternal life Jesus promises,
is so critical,
because without it
hope is lost,
help is gone,
future is not possible.
Not even the future promise of resurrection on the last day.

Which is why this life,
this eternal life Jesus promises,
is so important
because without it
struggle,
and sorrow,
and separation,
of any and every sort
—even death itself—
leave us with no chance,
leave us as good as dead.
Four days or more in a tomb.

Which is why Jesus gives life.
Eternal life.
Now.
As God always does:
In the midst of chaos, God creates order.
Separates water from waters.
Dry land.
Night and day.
Moon and sun.
For here now, in the midst of life, is life.
Eternal life.

God’s Word of eternal life,
means that whatever we face in life
—even if we face death itself—
the end is not death,
but newness of life,
a new creation.
Alive in Christ.
Alive in us.
Alive in us
each time we come together,
and break bread.

Alive in us
each time we unbind the towel from our waist,
unbind the timidness or hardness of our hearts,
and bend down to wash dirty feet or dry pain filled tears
of friend and enemy.

Alive in us
each time we feed the sheep,
which in our day in age is feeding the hungry,
in such a way that they never are hungry again.

Alive in us
each time we break down walls that would
divide,
and build up by prayer words that unite.

The Lively Spirit we’ve been praying for
throughout Lent.
Mana for our journey.
The body and blood of Christ.

Saint John calls it
eternal life.
Eternal life that hopes beyond hope.
That fills beyond overflowing.
That heals beyond all brokenness.

Eternal life
that is the resurrection and the life.
For us.
For two or three, gathered.
For the family of faith.
For all the world.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York
FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
Ezekiel 37:1–14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6–11
John 11:1–45