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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, September 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 11:38–44

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (NRSV)

I first learned the story of Lazarus’s resurrection from a Christian singer named Carman, who has a song called “Lazarus, Come Forth” on his 1984 album Comin’ On Strong (which also features the song “Spirit Filled Pizza”).

Carman (whose full name is Carmen Domenic Licciardello) imagines a gospel-style testimony meeting between the post-death-but-pre-resurrection Lazarus and the heroes of the Hebrew scriptures, Abraham, Job, Ezekiel, and more. The old guys all take turns professing their experiences with God before Lazarus jumps in, to their surprise, and tells his ancestors all about Jesus. Then Jesus calls him out of the tomb and he’s like, “Bye, guys, gotta go!”

It’s a bit out there, and my eight-year-old self loved it.

When the story is all by itself, though, you can’t go much further out there, can you? Jesus raises a person from the dead after four days. He was warned about the stench. He gives a little prayer and speech before all the onlookers, and then bellows for his friend to come out. Lazarus complies, complete with head-to-toe wrappings. And all of it is orchestrated “so that they might believe”—a sign to top all signs and to compel belief from the most hardened skeptic.

Two things not to miss (or dismiss) in the theatrics. First, the miracle proceeds from a “greatly troubled” Jesus. Lazarus and his sisters are Jesus’ friends. Lazarus’s death goes off like a bomb for Jesus. “So that they may believe,” yes. But also so that Jesus may not lose a friend.

Second, the outcome of Lazarus alive advances the outcome of Jesus dead. This is the last sign Jesus will perform out in the open, because the forces that oppose him take it as all the justification they need to pursue his eradication. Jesus gives his life for Lazarus quite literally.

Yes, the resurrection of Lazarus is quite out there. Divine love lives out there.

God of life, call us forth. Call us out of death and into life, and then, when we return, call us again. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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