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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 04/06/2014

I read an article last week written by a guy named Jeffrey Brown who is a reporter for the PBS Newshour; that’s really all I know about him; he’s a reporter. In the article I read though, regarding his profession he asks what does it mean, to report? His answer isn’t very surprising as he says, “We accumulate facts and observations and then give an account, an account of the day,” which makes sense. Part of what Mr. Brown reports on though is the arts and culture and with that in mind he suggests that what poets and writers do is to take those same accumulated facts and observations and give a different kind of account, an account not just of the day, not just of what happened, but an account of what the day means. From there you could broaden things out a little bit more and say that poets and writers and other artists too, give an account of what it means to be alive in the world; they deal with meaning more than just a report of events.

That’s something I keep coming back to as it relates to the Bible. The more I read poetry and the more I read about poetry, the more I am convinced of the poetic nature of the Bible. There’s a lot more I could say about that as those who take Lay School classes know, but in the midst of these long readings from John, I’m particularly reminded of the poetic nature of this gospel as John is almost always more concerned with meaning than he is in reporting events.

John is different from the other gospels; for example many of the reported events are different, Jesus speaks differently, many characters who show up in John only show up in John. Despite the differences though, John still follows the same basic pattern that Mark set up, Mark being the earliest gospel, a pattern in which various stories and teachings about Jesus are then followed by the Passion story which is by far the longest, most detailed part. So you get the idea that in following that pattern John must have been aware of the other gospels and yet he takes those same accumulated facts and observations and being the poet that he is, he gives quite a different account, because John is far more concerned about telling us what Jesus means than he is in reporting exactly what Jesus did or said. John gives us an account of what Jesus means for the world.

Today we get the fourth in our series of “Lenten encounters with Jesus” from John’s gospel. It started with Nicodemus, then the Samaritan woman at the well, last week there was the man born blind and today we get Lazarus. In each of these encounters, through each of these characters, Jesus also comes up against something that is an obstacle to understanding who he is, an obstacle to the way that he represents, the kingdom that he represents, an obstacle to understanding what Jesus means for the world.

In Nicodemus, Jesus encountered a lack of imagination, a lack which prevented Nicodemus from understanding what it meant to be born again. In the woman at the well Jesus encountered boundaries created by ethnic and moral prejudice, boundaries that caused division; in the man born blind Jesus encountered illness or disability that kept one from being a full participant in the life of the community. All of these things present obstacles for Jesus.

Today we get Lazarus, although it’s really only in the last couple of verses that Jesus encounters him. For most of this story Lazarus is dead and the interactions Jesus has are with his disciples and with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. You just heard it heard it read so you know the basic story line of Jesus finding out his friend Lazarus is ill, but rather than rushing to be there as we would expect, Jesus takes his time so that Lazarus dies; he’s been dead four days by the time Jesus does arrive. As part of the narrative there’s also some dialogue that is typical of John, not always easy to follow and make sense of, but there’s one piece of that dialogue that I want to talk about.

Jesus arrived in Bethany and was met by Mary and Martha in their grief over their brother’s death. In encountering their grief, Jesus too becomes “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” at which point he asks, “Where have you laid him?” The response is “Lord, come and see.” Then…Jesus began to weep, or in the King James Version, Jesus wept, the answer to the trivia question, “What’s the shortest verse in the Bible?” Jesus wept.

The response of Mary and Martha, “Lord, come and see,” I think is significant. It’s not the first time those words “Come and see” have been spoken in John. The first time was back in chapter one when Jesus called the first two disciples who, in another dialogue typical of John, ask Jesus “Where are you staying?” to which Jesus responds…”Come and see.” Later in the same chapter Jesus calls Philip who then goes and tells his brother Nathanael about Jesus. Nathanael says to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Philip says…”Come and see.” In the story of the woman at the well we heard a couple of weeks ago, after coming to some understanding of who Jesus is, the woman says to the people back in the city, “Come and see…a man who has told me everything I have ever done!”

Now, when Jesus asks where Lazarus is, Mary and Martha use the same words, “Come and see” and those words reduce Jesus to tears. Interesting, and I don’t think it’s merely coincidence. The other times those words were used, they pointed to Jesus. This time they don’t. You could say that they point toward Lazarus, but even more, I would suggest that “Come and see” in this case points toward what Lazarus represents, and what he represents is death. This time the phrase “Come and see” doesn’t point toward Jesus but instead it points toward the ultimate obstacle that Jesus is to overcome, that obstacle being the finality of death.

As John portrays him here, Jesus is already very emotional, and then these words bring him even more to the full realization of his identity and of what his mission is. They bring him to the realization that his hour is getting closer, the hour of his Passion. Much of the time in his gospel John favors Jesus’ divine identity over his human identity as he is portrayed as being kind of above it all, knowing what’s going on, totally in command of things. It’s even true in how John depicts Jesus in his arrest and trial; it’s more like Jesus puts Pilate on trial than vice versa. But here you get a very human Jesus, maybe as human as he gets in any of the gospels, overcome by emotion as he recognizes this final obstacle, in his humanity maybe like many of us, not really wanting to think about death; but the words “Come and see” bring him face to face with death’s reality.

Death was the final obstacle for Jesus, the problem he came to solve as it were. In John, the raising of Lazarus is the last of what are called Jesus’ signs. As dramatic as an event like the raising of Lazarus would have been, as a sign it points to something even more dramatic which is the raising of Jesus.

The raising of Lazarus had significance for him and for those closest to him; they had the happiness of more time together, but still, Lazarus would die. The raising of Jesus though, has significance for everyone because it removes the finality of death, not just for him, not just for a few people but for all people. Death is still real, but it’s not final. For Jesus death was the final obstacle because death itself was final in that it represented separation from God. With his resurrection that finality of separation is defeated. In and through Jesus we see that even death can’t separate us from the love and grace of God. Hearing those words “Come and see” though, Jesus recognized the cost. The victory would be won, the final obstacle of death and separation would be overcome, but there would be a cost and so Jesus, usually so calm and collected, Jesus began to weep.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is much more than a miraculous story of a resuscitated corpse. That’s what a reporter would offer up to you. In his gospel though, John is more than a reporter; he is a poet who gives us meaning. This story, this sign is another chapter in what Jesus means…for us. Understood that way, while the words “Come and see” in this case do point to Lazarus and they do point to death, we find that like the other times they are used, they do again point to Jesus.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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