Foretaste of a Foretaste (John 11:1-45) 
Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifth Sunday of the Lententide comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what He did, believed in Him ….”  Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

October 13, 2000. I was twelve years old at the time. My maternal grandfather, a man whom I had looked up to all my life, who had been a best friend to me, was in the hospital. He’d gone in for some heart issues, but we’d received reports that he’d been improving some. A little after 4:00 that afternoon, however, the front door swung open and my mom and dad walked through. They both had been crying. My stomach dropped, and the words seemed to come slow-motion from mother’s mouth, “Pete, honey, Grandpa died.” I was stupefied. I couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it, and I remember a guttural, visceral scream coming from my lungs, and the only word I could manage was “No” over and over as I sobbed. 

It was the first in my life that I experienced the bitterness of death, when the enemy took someone whom I loved. It would not be the last. My Grandma Heckert was taken about three years later on my sister’s 20th birthday. Just a few months after that, my Aunt Nollie went to be with her Lord a few days before my 16th birthday. As the years flew past, there came more and more gut punches like these. No longer would I enjoy the physical presence of my loved one. No longer would I laugh at their jokes, share in their sorrows, regale in their stories, glean from their wisdom, or worship and praise our God together. They were gone, and it hurt like hell. Still does, frankly.

I know I’m not alone in this. Most people here have experienced something similar. Maybe in telling you what I experienced when my grandpa died, some of you remembered a time when death crashed into your life, stealing away your loved one, leaving you devastated and bewildered. It has happened to most of us; therefore, we really can empathize with Mary and Martha in our Gospel text. 

We have no idea what illness claimed Lazarus’ life, but it sounds as though it came on quick. Mary and Martha were left devastated by the loss of their brother. Their sorrow hung like a pall over the house, and many friends and loved one congregated around them to share in their mourning. What could they say? How could they console these sisters? No sentiments could assuage their grief, and certainly no words of theirs could bring the good Lazarus out of his four-day tomb. Then … Jesus comes.

Martha comes out to Him and makes her confession. Mary comes later and does the same. The sorrow Jesus sees, the despair at the passing of His friend and theirs, moves Him to tears. He makes His way to the tomb where poor Lazarus lay. In spite of initial objections, the people listen to His command to remove the stone, and after a moment of prayer, the Christ, the incarnate Word, cries out a command, “Lazarus, come out.” 

At the risk of sounding like Charles Dickens, it’s important to remember that Lazarus was dead to begin with. His ears had ceased to function. The neurons in his brain had gone dark. His heart had stopped. Indeed, from the smell, the cells in his body had begun to break down and decay. He. Was. Dead. He did not hear Jesus call out and respond. What we hear Jesus command is the same performative imperative that was given to the primordial nothingness, when He commanded, “Let there be light,” and there was light. As God, Jesus’ Word is performative – what He says, is. And in that instant, at His Word, Lazarus’ ears began to hear again. His brain flickers back to life. The still heart … beats again. Every cell in the dead man’s body … came alive again when the Creator came calling. He demanded that the dead man rise, and in the same way that bones came together in Ezekiel’s vision, the lifeless clay could not help but obey. And Lazarus, still bound by the façade of death’s shroud, walked out of his tomb, and Jesus commanded that the vivified man be loosed.

This miracle … is absolute. There is no physical reason or explanation for this happening other than that the one true God in human flesh issued the imperative that it be so. It is nothing short of a demonstration of Jesus’ proclamation that He is the resurrection and the life, and validation of Martha’s bold confession of Him to be the Christ, the Son of God, coming into the world. And here’s the really wild thing: this miracle … was but a foretaste.

That’s right, greater things were yet to come. Not that long after Lazarus shakes the dust of death from his feet, Jesus Himself would taste the bitterness of mortality. Only, His death wouldn’t be from an illness or natural causes. It wouldn’t be from something that could be treated with pills or treatments. His death would come certainly at the hands of the very people He came to save – both Jew and Gentile alike – but it would ultimately rest in the pierced hands of the Christ Himself. He laid down His life, dying the cruelest, most excruciating execution conceived by sinful Man, making atonement for the sins of all mankind … and then He took His life back up again.

Lazarus’ resurrection foreshadowed Jesus’ own, but unlike Lazarus, there was no one to call out to Jesus in order for Him to rise from the dead. He HIMSELF raised Himself from the dead. That is something only God, with His performative Word, can do. Lazarus’ resurrection that we read about today is but a foretaste of what the Lord Jesus Christ did in His own death and resurrection, the two-part miracle of miracles that we will celebrate within two weeks’ time. 

And still … there is more to come. In this vale of tears, on this side of eternity, we languish. We are plagued and haunted by death. I’ve lost many, and I know you have too. But I had something of an epiphany when my dad’s brother, Ray, fell asleep in Christ back in 2007. As I listened to the homily from Father Worman at St. Mary Hyacinth Catholic Church in Antigo, for the first time, I truly realized that … this isn’t the end. Oh, I’d heard that sentiment innumerable times from countless people throughout the years, but this time, it hit home. The truth of Jesus’ statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” With Martha, confess that this is true, that He is the Christ, the Son of God, coming into this world, that a resurrection greater than Lazarus’ will happen to all who are tied to Jesus’ resurrection, the firstfruit of the life of the world to come. Yes, a Day is coming when the Christ comes again into this world, to raise Mary and Martha and Peter and John and my grandparents and aunts and uncles and all who have gone before us in the faith, when Christ’s performative Word will bid our dusty bones rise and live … and we will.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.