The following sermon was preached on Sunday March 26, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here

Photo credit: The Raising of Lazarus by Sadao Watanabe.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is the last Sunday in the season of Lent before Holy Week. Holy Week begins next Sunday with our Palm Sunday service. Lent is not over today, however, depending on who you ask, Lent either ends on Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday so you still have a little less than two weeks of your Lenten practice to go.

Our Lenten series has a more definite end point, our final session will take place this Wednesday at 2pm and everyone is welcome to attend, even if this session will be your first one.

Today’s gospel reading is another long one and even though we are still in Lent, we are given a resurrection story.

Jesus receives a message that Lazarus is ill. The wording of the message is interesting, it says, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (3)

It doesn’t say, “Hey Jesus, we know you love everyone equally but we wanted you to know Lazarus is ill.” The wording implies a special relationship between these two.

The passage implies a special relationship between four people actually, Jesus, Lazarus and Lazarus’ two sisters – Mary and Martha. Later John will also tell us that Jesus loved the sisters as well. (5) There are a lot of stories about Marys in the Bible and a few about Marthas and these may be the same women that are in some of those other stories, but they also may not be the same women. Mary and Martha were pretty common names.

But what we do know is this is a family that Jesus knows and cares about. The gospel writer also tells us that this is the Mary who will anoint Jesus with perfume. I’m familiar with that story, when I was preparing for this sermon I realized that this information is actually foreshadowing. The story where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet happens after this story, not before.

Which means it’s possible that the events of today’s story are at least part of why she was motivated to anoint Jesus.

Jesus loves Lazarus and Lazarus is ill but Jesus doesn’t rush to be with his friend. Rather he says that Lazarus will not die and that his illness will be used to the glory of God and he waits two more days before going to see his sick friend. (4-5)

Now this is hard because you have likely heard this story many times before and you know what is going to happen, but try to imagine what it would be like to have been standing next to Jesus when he learns his friend is ill and then watching him choose to just hang around for two extra days. Try to imagine what it would be like to be Mary and Martha.

I don’t know about you but if I witnessed Jesus learning that a beloved friend was ill and then choosing to wait two full unnecessary days to go visit, my thoughts would be the opposite of thoughts that “glorified God.”

Especially if Lazarus was my brother.

And when Jesus finally arrived, I would be very tempted to give him a piece of my mind.

Jesus has made a deliberate choice to wait before going to see Lazarus and the text makes it clear that he knows Lazarus has died. (13) But it’s not as if traveling to see his friend would have been an easy thing.

When Jesus is finally ready to go see Lazarus, the disciples point out that this trip requires them to return to a place where Jesus might be killed. They say that the people were, “just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” (8)

This is a dangerous trip. We know that’s not why Jesus didn’t rush off to see his friend, but that doesn’t make this fact any less true. And it doesn’t make the trip any less dangerous or scary for the disciples who will go with him.

And it was probably even scarier when they were close to Mary and Martha’s home and the disciples could see that a lot of people were there to support the grieving sisters. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem so a large group of people have travelled to be with the sisters and to mourn with them. (18)

And none of these people were likely to have a favourable opinion of Jesus at that moment.

When they can see Jesus and his disciples in the distance, Mary stays home and Martha goes out to meet him.

Martha and Jesus have a conversation and we learn that Lazarus has already been dead for four days. This is an important number because this means that we can be sure that he is truly dead. They haven’t just missed his vital signs, he isn’t just sleeping, he is dead.

And even more importantly, Jewish people at this time believed that the soul left the body on the fourth day. This is the deadest a person can be which makes what happens later in a story a real miracle to all who observe it. Jesus doesn’t just resuscitate Lazarus, he resurrects him.

By this time in his ministry, Jesus has a reputation of healing people, and even on occasion resurrecting someone who has very recently died, but this is different.

So we learn in this conversation between Martha and Jesus that Lazarus is really and truly dead, but we learn a few other things as well.

Mainly we learn, that despite everything, Martha still believes in Jesus. She believes that if Jesus has shown up on time then Lazarus would not have died, she believes in a future time when the dead will be resurrected, and she believes that Jesus is the, “Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (23-27)

Jesus stays where he is, some distance from the house and Martha returns to have a private conversation with her sister. She tells Mary, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” (28) John tells us that Mary gets up “quickly” to go see Jesus. The people who have gathered to mourn notice and follow her. (29-31)

Mary and Jesus also have a conversation where she affirms that she believes her brother would not have died if Jesus had come sooner and this exchange is filled with emotion. We are told that when she meets Jesus she falls at his feet, weeping. (34)

Keep in mind that many of the people who have gathered to mourn Lazarus and comfort the sisters are watching this exchange and John tells us that they were also crying.

When Jesus first hears that Lazarus is ill he seems to be able to calmly state that this will all be used for God’s glory and he feels comfortable waiting a few days before doing anything, but now, surrounded by grief, we are told he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”

Jesus also began to cry. (35)

Some of the people who saw Jesus crying commented on his deep love for Lazarus. Others questioned why Jesus had not come to save him. (36-37)

They go to the tomb and Jesus tells them to remove the stone.

Remember I told you that at this time Jewish people believed that the soul left the body on the fourth day so we can be sure that Lazarus was really and truly dead at this point. Well, in case that wasn’t enough, John gives us another piece of evidence.

You could smell that he was dead. Martha says, “there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.”

But they do what Jesus asks and remove the stone and Jesus looks up and says, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you have sent me.” (42)

And then Jesus says with a “loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!” (43)

And he does.

John tells us that as a result of this miracle many of the people who were there believed in Jesus.

And that is roughly where our lectionary reading ends, but the next part of the story is really important.

Many believe, but not everyone believes.

Some of the people who witness Lazarus’ resurrection return to Jerusalem where they report what happened to their religious leaders.

They see Jesus as a threat to their safety and way of being saying, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (48)

Jesus is a threat and this is when they decide that he has to die. (53)

I mentioned earlier that when they went to see Mary and Martha the disciples were concerned their personal safety, but they were also able to travel unharmed. That has all changed now.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem give orders that anyone who knows where Jesus is should tell them so that he can be arrested. (58)

John tells us that, “Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with his disciples.” (54)

John also tells us that all of this is happening near the time of the celebration of Passover. People are speculating among themselves, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” (57)

Which is a question we will answer next week when we celebrate Palm Sunday.

Next week is Holy Week and we have a number of special services to help us walk through this final chapter in Jesus’ ministry starting next Sunday with Palm Sunday. All of that information can be found on the website and I hope you’ll join us as we walk through the rest of the story together.

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