Come and See (Sermon)

“Come and See”

John 11:1-44

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

3/26/23

A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”

The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. 10 But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”

11 He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” 13 They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.

14 Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. 15 For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. 19 Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”

28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him. (John 9:1-41 — CEB)

         The story of the resuscitation of Lazarus offers a kind of summary of John’s Gospel. It either recapitulates or foreshadows the basic affirmations and the overall proclamation of the fourth gospel. As an illustration: John 1:14 declares that “the Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” And in Chapter 11, Jesus says, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s son can be glorified through it.” Do you hear the echoes?

         In the story of Lazarus, John invites us to witness the Word-Made-Flesh striding toward two different tombs. The first tomb belongs to Lazarus, but John is connecting Lazarus’ and Jesus’ tombs to each other, and to the Creator’s primordial intent of love.

         Let’s walk back and forth with this story a little more. John opens by proclaiming: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. What has come into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

         When Jesus says to a grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he makes this claim because he is the “light” and the “life” who is coming into the world, for the world. Soon after this, Jesus will say to his disciples, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” John’s point is that the light of the Christ shines through love.

         It is the entombed love within each of us and within all humankind that Jesus comes to resuscitate. So, Martha’s observation about Lazarus being four-days dead is layered with meaning. When our will and capacity to love dies, we turn foul. We begin to stench with selfishness, resentment, and fear. We confuse angry retribution with healing justice. So, Jesus invites us back into the liveliness of love when he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, [and in John that means: if you loved me,] you would see the glory of God?”

         In John, seeing begins the process of believing, and for John believing and loving are synonymous. No one understands that at first. When John the Baptist initially encounters Jesus, he surprises everyone by saying, “Look! The Lamb of God!” Expecting a political messiah who will recruit, train, and lead soldiers in a violent rebellion against Rome, John’s followers ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” What they’re asking is: Where’s the base camp? Where do we rally for war?

         Jesus says to them, “Come and see.”

In John, come and see is like the tolling of a bell. When Nathanael asks Philip if anything good can come out of Nazareth, Philip says, “Come and see.”

         When Jesus treats a Samaritan woman with kindness and respect, she hurries back to town saying to her neighbors, “Come and see.”

         And when Jesus asks the whereabouts of Lazarus’ body, Mary and Martha turn to him and say, “Come and see.”

         Hearing those loaded words directed at himself, Jesus knows that the bell is tolling for him. Standing next to a tomb, a place that has represented clock-stopping finality to every rational person, Jesus now faces a turning point. Mary’s and Martha’s “Come and see” is God’s word to Jesus. It’s a call to act in complete, self-emptying love. And even for Jesus it demands a leap of faith. The synoptic counterpart to this moment is when Jesus prays, in the Garden of Gethsemane, God, please, take away this cup of suffering.

Now, to me, the most dramatic and transforming thing about Jesus’ resuscitation of Lazarus’ is the revelation that just as Word and Flesh are one in Jesus, spirit and matter are one in the Creation.

         Jesus knows that to raise Lazarus will open his own tomb because the Caesars, Pilates, and Caiaphases of the world don’t understand the holy union between spirit and matter. When Jesus shines the eternal light of life into the grave, he will be revealing a wound that has separated spirit and matter. And when word gets out that spirit and matter are being reunited, there will be no differentiation between political and spiritual issues. Every human crisis—poverty, disease, war, racism, sexism, exploitation of the earth, even how to make and spend money—falls into the realm of spirituality, because when any damage is done, it’s not done simply to material things, but to the very being of God.

         Worldly power always reacts violently to such suggestions because it cannot bear the demands of love. Worldly power will always choose the tomb, because power mistakes the tomb for a victory over or a loss to an enemy. And the world’s only language is that of “winners and losers.” That’s why Thomas says to the other disciples, Let’s go die with him. That’s why Jesus weeps when he arrives at Lazarus’ tomb. When Jesus does what Love is calling him to do, he will seal his fate. Worldly power will come for him because it cannot compete with, and, thus, cannot tolerate life-renewing grace.

At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus permanently alters the world. And he does it not through violence, but through love.

         Come-and-see moments are often like that. They can be grief-stricken moments of surrender and commitment, moments of dying to self and being raised to a new life in which God overwhelms us with our capacity for receiving and sharing love.

         So, when Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!” he’s also speaking to us. He’s inviting us to recognize that there’s nothing in life or death that can separate our impermanent and imperfect human existence from the eternal holiness and wholeness of God.

There are all kinds of tombs in which we can find ourselves, and within each there lies not merely a soul, but a body ready to rise.

         On the other side of every failure there stands a person who is newly empowered to offer and to ask for forgiveness.

         With every experience of grief we endure, we have the chance to embrace anew the treasures of all relationships, and all community

         First steps on renewed feet are hard, though. Our legs remain bound and our faces covered. We need help to shed the clinging and confining clothes of death. Part of the church’s work is to help one another to molt out of our death wraps. And as John reminds us, we do that not by casting condemnation, but by loving and being loved.

To love as we are loved is to seek and to recognize the holiness in ourselves and others.

To love as we are loved is to trust that in all things, God is present and at work revealing God’s realm of grace.

To love as we are loved is to celebrate the promise of Easter, even at the grave and on every entombing Friday we face.

To love as we are loved is to say, with our lives, Come and see.

Brothers and sisters, Come and see. You are loved, and you are capable of loving in ways you have to experience to believe.

Charge/Benediction:

In the sermon, I said that the light of the Christ shines through love. And as we’ve said before, light is not something we see, but that by which we see.

When we see the world in the light of love, we see it not as “the world,” but as God’s good Creation. We see its inherent holiness. We see its potential for wholeness and liveliness. And we see those same possibilities in ourselves and the people around us.

Let us, then, come out of our tombs of fear, resentment, and competition. Let us shed our death wraps. Mummies no more, let us see all things in the light of love so that we may experience and bear witness to the grace of God, which is making all things new.

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