John 11: 1-45
Does anyone who drives remembering using a map to navigate our way to a destination? Yes – those good old days before SatNav! I used to work for BT and I used to have to drive all over the UK. And I did most of it purely by reading a map and especially by following the signs along the way that pointed me in the right direction. Though I am now grateful and fully reliant on Sat Nav.
In his gospel, John included only seven miracles which he intended to be read as signs. He meant them to point us somewhere. To show us something about God. The last of these miracles was the one from today’s Gospel reading on the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It was written as the last word, the last sign, to anticipate the end of the Gospel story. Jesus’ conquest over death itself. He has the last word over life and death. Now I have heard my grandchildren having the ageless argument “yes you did – no I didn’t” – that can go on for some time because each of them wants the last word. Sadly I’ve heard adults have the same argument – they do it every day in Parliament! Again because each party wants the last word. Indeed, we can see more extreme examples going on across the globe today. The last word is always seen as the most important and is often the most fought over.
Jesus it seems in John’s Gospel, was very clear and deliberate in everything he said and did for Lazarus. When Jesus first heard of the death of his friend he didn’t set off immediately – he waited two days. So by the time he eventually got there Lazarus had been dead and in his tomb for four days. The significance of this is somewhat lost on us. We can easily question why Jesus waited. But the Jews at the time of Jesus believed that the soul of a person hovered over their body for 3 days after death, and left on the fourth day. So by waiting until the fourth day Jesus was making sure everyone knew that Lazarus was really dead. He wanted to have the last word. No-one was going to be able to argue that Lazarus had just been in a deep sleep. In the build-up to raising Lazarus, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” In Jesus’ day, the average life expectancy was about forty. Most lives were cut short, potential was not fulfilled, tragedy was the norm, lives incomplete. So to speak as Jesus did into this situation described to us in our Gospel reading, had far more power than we might imagine. People also knew the resurrection of the dead to be God’s final act. So for Jesus to proclaim ‘I am’ just that, he was making very clear claims about himself. Something else that the Jewish authorities at the time were not happy with Jesus about.
When he arrives Jesus is met first by Martha, Lazarus’ sister. Even though she tells Jesus she wishes he had arrived earlier and prevented her brother from dying, she professes her faith. “I believe that you are the Messiah the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Martha believes Jesus’ word that he is “the resurrection and the life” The early part of John’s gospel shows that Jesus is welcomed by many of those he meets and ministers to. He draws people to himself – but he turns away from confrontation. However, as his ministry progresses opposition to him builds and arguments arise. Arguments that grow increasingly fierce.
Today’s Gospel reading ends with Jesus calling the resurrected Lazarus from the tomb, still wrapped in burial cloths. This is proof that he is the Son of God with all the power and authority that comes with being God. And the final line of this reading is “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” They witnessed Jesus last sign, his last word on the matter and believed. But note it is “many” not “all”. Sadly others there didn’t see what was right in front of them and instead went to the Jewish religious leaders who then plotted to kill Jesus.
Today we are among the many who know and see this last sign, this last word, the winning of the argument of life over death. And we are called to witness to the same. To witness, to share, to teach, to invite the many more who don’t see this sign. Those who are blinded to this and all the signs that point to Jesus. Blinded by sin, blinded by the world in which they live, blinded by simply not knowing and having never heard. We are probably very much like Martha and Mary. We still have our human emotions and can express them to God the Father. We can ask, yearn, plead for someone to be healed. Yet we know that all is in God’s hands, all is His will. We trust that He knows best. And we have seen the sign that marks the destination, the last word. That we have been given through Jesus’ death and resurrection the promise of the hope of eternal life.
And this doesn’t just refer to the end of our earthly life. It refers to our sins being forgiven and a new life in Christ here in our earthly life. As witnesses to this belief in Jesus as the resurrection and the life shouldn’t we share this Good News with others who do not yet know? Who haven’t seen the sign or who have lost their way on life’s journey? The resurrection is the last word. Jesus has won that argument. As the Sat Nav would say “you have reached your destination” Through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us help others see the signs and reach that destination too. Amen