Cross sculpture on campus



Waking from Sleep

Lent 2022

Read John 11:1-16

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

This story, in many ways, parallels our own experiences. “The Gospel says that Lazarus lay ill… With poignant simplicity the evangelist tells about two women sending a plea to Jesus only to receive silence in return, and about a friend of Jesus who dies when Christ is not visibly present.” 1 How many Christians over the centuries have prayed for the health of a loved one only to feel like God’s response is silence? In the end, it seems death takes everyone.

Jesus’ response that Lazarus had fallen asleep may seem a bit cavalier. Maybe it sounds like a gentle euphemism meant to lessen the pain of grief. But this little phrase means so much more.

Jesus knew that Lazarus would not remain dead. After four days in the tomb, Jesus raised him to life. Since Jesus is the Lord of life, Lazarus was not held by death. Death really was like sleep for him. Jesus explains: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

God’s word uses the words “fallen asleep” to describe Christians who have died (1 Corinthians 15:6, 20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15). Lazarus died, but Jesus raised him to life. Jesus died, but he rose again. All Christians who die will be raised to eternal life.

In death, all semblance of control is stripped away. A corpse cannot help itself. But to the Lord of life, death is like sleep. For a while, we rest in God’s presence and care. Until then we, like Mary and Martha, grieve the loss of brothers and sisters in Christ, but in the hope of knowing that their bodies will be raised to life again.

Someday (unless Christ returns first) we also will “fall asleep” in Christ. But we do not want you to be uniformed, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who are fallen asleep… And the dead in Christ will rise (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16). Christ had a reason for his delay in attending to Lazarus and we trust God’s appointed timing for the demonstration of his power when Christ returns on the last day.

Prayer: Merciful God, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, you give us hope in the face of death. Give me joy in your victory now, and make my joy complete on the Last Day. Amen.

1 Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel p. 65.

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