The Day the Dead Took Center Stage

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John 11:1-6, 11-15, 17-24  

CCI: What do we do about Easter?

Intro: On April 8, 1998, at 1:00, I was working in the garage when I got a call from the hospital that changed my life.  It was the day before Easter.  It had been a busy week as Holy Week is every year.  I was taking some down time with my son, Steve, working on the car.  On the other end of the phone was a volunteer at the hospital asking me to come to speak with two aunts of a boy named Jacob, a 10 year old  who had been hit by a car.  I was really enjoying the time with Steve, and I must confess a moment’s hesitation before I told the Emergency room worker I would be there in 15 minutes.  I finished the job I was doing and briefed Steve on the next steps and went to the hospital.

When I got there, I went to the ER nurses station to find the family.  With gravity, the nurse lead me to the consultation room and I met two young women who introduced themselves to me.  I pulled up a chair and waited.  Finally, one of them said, “His dad can’t come, he is so upset.  He is home with his wife.  I don’t know how they are going to handle this.”  I was unaware of the boy’s condition and so I simply listened.  As I listened I learned about Jacob’s dad.  Lee came from a family of 9 children and in the last 12 months he lost both his mother and father to cancer.  Then one of Jacob’s aunts said, “At least I know he is in heaven now.”  Suddenly the truth of what had happened hit me.  Jacob, a vibrant 10 year old, Lee’s baby had been killed almost instantly when he was struck while riding his bike on a back road in central Michigan.

For the next minutes that seemed like hours, I prayed with them and cried with them.  Then she asked the question, “What are we going to do about Easter?” And sitting in that room that question spoken so quietly, went off like a bomb in my heart.  “What are we going to do about Easter?” The question was asked in regard to the family gathering that was planned, “what do we do now?” But behind it was another question, “What do we do with Easter when the bottom has just fallen out of life?”  “How do we celebrate resurrection in the face of death?” When the lifeless body of a 10-year-old lies in front of you, “What do you do about Easter?”

When your spouse has just left and told you he has found someone else, “What do you do about Easter?”

When the job you have been working for years to land is given to your best friend because she betrayed you, “What do you do about Easter?”

When you receive the letter from the attorney telling you that you have 10 days to vacate the house you have poured your life saving into,  “What do you do about Easter?”

When a landslide in Putamayo Columbia suddenly takes the live of at least 220 women, men and children, “What do you do about Easter?”

When heroine takes the lives of 7 in one county of Upstate New York, “What do we do about Easter?”

When an abused 14 year old girl in Florida hangs herself on Facebook Live, “What do we do about Easter?

I.  The Story of Lazarus

A.  That is the question Mary and Martha were asking when Jesus came to Bethany three days after Lazarus had died.  They did not know that was their question, but it was.  When Jesus arrived, both of the sisters came up to him and said, “If you had been here, he would not have died.”  It was a statement of despair and in that statement was an accusation.  “If you had only come when we called, he would not have died.”

Have you ever felt that way?  “Jesus, if you had been here, he would not have died.”  We want to scream with Mary and Martha, “Where have you been?!”  If you had been here, he would not have died. . .  If you were doing your job, he would still be healthy. . . God, if you cared he would have lived.” And through a broken heart we desperately weep, “Where were you God?”

And Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again.”  Those words of Jesus, so true and spoken with compassion left Martha cold.  When Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again,” she replied, “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.”  She heard Jesus’ words as a platitude.  For three days, everyone who came by had said the same thing and each time she had responded the same way.  That day, when she heard it from Jesus, she knew the right response.  “I know he will rise on the last day.”  Yes, he will rise, but what about today? It sounded so far off, at that moment the words of the promise were an empty hope.

But there was something she did not know.  What she did not know was what Jesus was going to reveal to her before the day was over.  Jesus continued, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. . .”  Jesus was offering her insight to the greatest truth that had ever come into the world.

But even then she did not understand the wonder that those words contained.  Jesus was preparing her, but she did not get it.  The sisters were still asking, “What do we do about Easter?”

And so, Jesus. went to the grave with the sisters and there at the grave he called for Lazarus.  Imagine that, he called the name of the man who had been dead for three days.  “Lazarus, come out!”  And Lazarus responded to the one who had called his name.  Lazarus came in response to the one who called himself the resurrection and the life.  Lazarus came back to life and emerged from the tomb.

Suddenly, those gathered at the graveside saw and experienced the power of Jesus and they were in shock.  All their questions, all their fears were suddenly turned upside down.  Oh, they were still afraid, they still had questions, but now they were beginning to realize that they were in the presence of the source of life, even in the face of death.  But in the midst of the question, when Jesus called his name, when he spoke the name “Lazarus”, Mary and Martha immediately knew what to do about Easter.

A few weeks later, the questions were raised yet again. Jesus had been crucified. His body had been buried, and now there was rumor that his body had been stolen. What do you do when you stand before a grave filled with all your hopes and dreams. Lazarus’ grave was a place of deep sorrow, a few weeks later, Jesus grave was a place of even greater sorrow and heartbreak.

When Jesus stood by Lazarus’ grave, he called his name. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus perched in a tree to catch a glimpse of him, Jesus called him by name. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus called him by name. And when Mary stood by Jesus’ grave, Jesus called her name and when she heard him speak her name, she knew him.

At times we stand by graves and wonder what we will do with Easter, but if we will tune our ears to the voice of Jesus, we will hear him call our name. In John 10 Jesus said the Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name and they follow.

When Mary was willing to wait and search in that place of sorrow, she heard Jesus speak her name, and then she knew what to do about Easter.  When the disciples gathered together and shared their sorrow, Jesus came and stood among them and he breathed on them, and then they knew what to do about Easter.

APP: And so today, when you stand at the edge of a newly dug grave; when you read in the paper that 300 people have died in Columbia; when desperate young adults lose their lives to Heroin; when your son or daughter lash out with anger and hatred; when your best friend betrays you; when you find yourself asking, “where have you taken him?”  Tune your heart in the midst of your sorrow so that you will hear the lips of the eternal one call out your name.

What do you do when the dead take center stage?  Don’t run, rather listen and wait for Jesus to call your name.  You will hear him.  He is calling your name even now.  And he has a task for you that will change your world.