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Resurrection Anyway

Good morning, Grace. Turn to your neighbor and say, “I’m ready for resurrection.”

You know who wasn’t ready for resurrection? Who didn’t even ask for resurrection? Lazarus. And yet, that’s what Jesus gave him. Jesus gave Lazarus resurrection even though he didn’t ask for it. You know, Grace, I’m tempted to stop right there. Because that’s not a half-bad sermon. Jesus gave Lazarus resurrection even though he didn’t ask for it. And given that I know I’ve run on a little long with my sermons these last few weeks, and these Gospel readings have also been very long, you may wish I did stop there. But I can’t, Grace family, because the good news of resurrection love takes just a little more time than that.

Today’s Gospel reading not only brings us resurrection, it brings us Jesus as we’ve never seen Jesus before, at least not in the Gospel of John. Now, a little trade secret here: there are a lot of preachers, and teachers, for whom the Gospel of John is their least favorite Gospel. The way John talks about Jesus isn’t always easy to connect with. From the first verse of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” to some of the more obscure ways Jesus speaks to his disciples and followers, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the more human side of Jesus the way, say, the Gospel of Matthew does. In today’s passage, though, John not only focuses on the more human side of Jesus, he doubles down on it, in a way that hardly any other Gospel does. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Jesus comes to Lazarus after a strange sort of delay—the text tells us that Jesus actually waits two days to make the trip to see his good friend Lazarus. And when he finally gets there, he finds, in the words of Rector Mike Kinman of All Saints Church Pasadena, “a body that is no longer a person.” The Lazarus that Jesus knew and loved—and we know how much he loved him because of what’s about to happen next—the Lazarus that Jesus knew and loved, the Lazarus that moved through the world in a particular Lazarus way is no longer there.

And when he finds that his friend, the Lazarus he once knew, is no longer there, Jesus loses it. I remember when I was a kid, before I had really lost anyone important to me, and I read the translation many of, “Jesus wept,” and the picture in my mind was of Jesus sort of softly sobbing. It was only when I was older when lost my grandparents, and then my own parents, that I understood how grief could overtake you. You can tell how much someone loved a person by how much are torn apart. When we lose someone we truly love, like Jesus losing Lazarus, we are wrecked. Many of us were wrecked many times over these last three years.

And not only is Jesus wrecked, he’s angry, really angry. Now, our translation says, “deeply disturbed,” which again sounds like saying “sobbing” instead of “wept,” it sounds like “having compassion.” But the original word used here, em-brima-omai, means anger and indignation, which some scholars say mean Jesus is angry not just that Lazarus died, but angry at death itself. Some of us have felt that way, too. And in the middle of this grief, and anger at death, Jesus he tells the people to roll the stone away from the mouth of the tomb and shouts out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus didn’t ask for resurrection, but Jesus gives it to him anyway.

And here’s what’s interesting, Grace, at least to me. When Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead, he doesn’t bring him into a world that’s any better than the one he died in. The resurrection love of Jesus, which was born of weeping love and shouting anger, brings Lazarus back into a world that needs that same resurrection love. As the Old Testament scholar Dr. Wilda Gafney says, “[Lazarus] is raised to life in the same old world. Life in Jesus happens here among the brokenness, failings, and limitations of the physical world.”

When we are resurrected by Jesus, either individually or as a church, we are, like Lazarus, resurrected into the same old world, but called into a new life in Jesus. We are reborn, anew, loved by Jesus, to heal and repair a broken, failing, and limited world. We are not the same person who was in that body before.

And just like Jesus wept at the passing of the old Lazarus who moved through the world in a particular Lazarus, you and I may weep at the passing of our old selves, including our old ways of being church. As you all know, these past several months, I’ve preached kind of a lot—maybe an annoying amount—about the changes that we as a church, both the Christian Church in general, and Grace Church specifically, have been going through. There have been many deaths, literally and metaphorically; there have been many wildernesses; there have been many Valleys of Dry Bones. And, as I said last week, we have moved through those changes, and all those wildernesses, and all those Valleys of Dry Bones, with the help of the same amazing grace that brought vision back to the man with blindness.

What I think I’ve not done such a great job recognizing, or preaching about, is that these changes, these deaths, are worth grieving. They are worth weeping over. Just because what comes next is where God is leading us doesn’t mean that where we’ve come from wasn’t beautiful. Like Jesus, we grieve over ways we used to be as a church, and ways we used to be individually. I’m going to be very candid with you this morning, I still grieve the person I was before I became a priest. I miss that person. That Jay was more sure of himself, more convinced that the gifts I had would be the gifts I would always give. And Grace Church might have been more sure of itself, convinced that the way it moved in a particular Grace way through the community, would be the way it always gave. It’s hard to ask for resurrection when we are still grieving our old selves.

Like Lazarus, we may not have asked to be resurrected. A certain, even beautiful way of being in the world came to an end. We may have thought we weren’t going to come back to life. But Jesus, because he loves us, has his own plans. Jesus resurrects us anyway.

Like Mary and Martha, we may have said to Jesus, “If only you had come sooner, we never would have died”. But Jesus, because he loves us, has his own plans. “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

And here’s the thing—there are going to be some people who don’t like it when we are resurrected into new life. You ever notice when some people see us resurrected into a new way of live, they aren’t always happy for us? We get a new job, or enter a healthy relationship, or come into money, and people aren’t always happy. For some people, it’s envy; for others, it can be sadness that they have not yet been resurrected as well.

In the case of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, resurrection makes them realize that the stakes are life and death. This is where we have to read beyond the end of today’s Gospel, which I’m forever going to keep asking us to do. Just past the end of today’s Gospel, we realize that this moment of resurrection of Lazarus, is the turning point where the Pharisees finally go from being threatened by Jesus to actively plotting to kill him. In verse 53, we are told, “From that day on they planned to put him to death.”

And I have to say something here about what the real difficulty with the Gospel of John is. It’s not so much that Jesus isn’t portrayed in all his humanness, it’s that many people have weaponized the Gospel of John’s portrayal of Jews as their basis for antisemitism. It’s hard for some people to read a verse like “From that day on they planned to put him to death” and not to think, “The Jews killed Jesus.” We have to remember that it wasn’t Jews in general, or even Pharisees in particular, that were trying to kill Jesus. It was a hierarchical system of institutional religious authority that would anything it could to protect itself. The resurrection love of Jesus threatened the religious authority just as much as it threatened the Roman Empire.

There are systems of religious authority and empire that aren’t going to like us being resurrected into new life by Jesus’s love because they are invested in preserving the status quo. Systems that are not only comfortable with their power, but systems that couldn’t survive without it. Systems that depend on keeping large groups of people on the outside, whereas resurrection love would bring them into the center, where their resurrected voices could finally be heard. Groups of people like the Lenape, our indigenous neighbors who you see mentioned every week in our service bulletin. I’ve started a conversation with Clan Mother Shelley DePaul, offering Grace Church as a place where she can offer an education program about the Lenape to our community. Among the new ways Grace can be going forward, we can a place where we show resurrection love to others, like the Lenape.

How do we prepare ourselves for the work of resurrection love? One way is by taking part in the community that is Grace Church. Notice all the people who worked to bring Jesus to see Lazarus: family, community, all of those who felt passionately about Lazarus, just as we feel passionately about Grace Church. We are not meant to prepare for the work of resurrection love alone. So, we come to church to worship together, and be ourselves together, and be nourished by the Holy Spirit for the work of resurrection love.

Another way we prepare is through prayer. That’s one of the reasons why you’ve been seeing such an emphasis on prayer here at Grace lately. This past Monday, during our Pop-Up Prayer, we raised intercessions as a group, not something many Episcopalians are all that used to. We prayed together for each other, and this church, and we paid special attention to the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth as it is in heaven. On earth, which is the broken, and failing, and limited place where Jesus’s resurrection love is needed most. That Monday night was a holy moment, a moment that prepared us for resurrection.

Grace, we may not have asked for resurrection, but Jesus gave it to us anyway. We have wept, and been angry, and Jesus met us there, in his own grief and his own anger at death. He resurrected with his love so we can take that same love out into a broken, failing, and limited world that yearns to become the healed, thriving, and eternal Kingdom of God.

Let us pray.

Living God, we have been wrecked. And we are ready for resurrection. Thank you for loving us so much that your son Jesus cries over us, and that he doesn’t just whisper his wish for us to be resurrected, he shouts it out with passion and anger at the many deaths we have seen. We thank you for where you’ve brought Grace church so far, and we thank you for where we’re going. And we thank you for the new life we are forever being given, even when we don’t ask for it. In the name of your resurrected Son, Amen.

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