At dinner that night, in Bethany near the Mount of Olives, Lazarus stole the show. Any other dinner, Jesus would be all that anyone could talk about. But at this table, on this night, Lazarus sat among them, the man who had been dead and whom Jesus brought back to life again. Lazarus was not someone revived from death swiftly, moments after heart and breath had stopped. Lazarus had been sick and he died, He had been wrapped in grave clothes, he had the funeral psalms sung over him, he had been sealed in a tomb, the mourners had gone home. Lazarus had been dead for four days before Jesus raised him. Whatever it is that happens to us when we die, it had well and truly happened to Lazarus, . Lazarus was dead and here he sat at dinner, alive! So who could talk of anything else? There would be no time to talk that night about logistics for the next day’s march into Jerusalem. They would make exactly no time to think of a parade route or a suitable mount or to come up with a speaking program or line up a venue or figure out who was going to handle talking to the nervous police—all that would get figured the next day. In Bethany, near the mount of olives, at table with Jesus and with Lazarus who had been dead but was alive again—that night they spoke of how death, was not at all what it seemed. They spoke of life and its power, of fate and the freedom it brings, they spoke of calling and purpose and resolve. Because of Lazarus, because he had been dead and Jesus called him back into life.
It was not only the people who loved Jesus who were talking about Lazarus. Lazarus was all that Jesus’ enemies were talking about too. And Jesus did have enemies, authorities who held power to wield death like a weapon against people. Authorities who had risen to positions of power and influence because they understood how powerful fear could be, understood that death could cast a shadow across a whole city, a whole nation, and that they could get their way by holding the power of death and threatening people with it. These authorities, these death-trusters, they had already resolved that they were going to have Jesus killed. But they hadn’t counted on Lazarus. Lazarus was dangerous. He was a man who had tasted death and was now living proof that death was not the greatest power in the world. And everyone Lazarus talked to they saw with their own eyes evidence of a power greater than death. Everyone Lazarus talked to was a little less afraid of death, a little less able to be controlled by the death-dealing and death-trusting authorities.
And so they decided they had to put Lazarus to death as well. The gospel of John chapter 12 verse 10—so the authorities planned to put Lazarus to death as well. Since it was on account of him that so many were deserting and believing in Jesus.
And the authorities, the death-trusters, exactly what they were afraid would happen did happen. Jesus and Lazarus and the other followers came into Jerusalem to a hero’s welcome. And the city was electrified. They had no cavalry, Jesus rode no horse, they didn’t have machines of war, but not even the gates of hell could have stood against the march of Jesus’ and his columns of life. They had no long train of wealthy courtiers or powerful dignitaries, just a surging crowd of ordinary people waving homemade banners from what they had at hand—palm branches and cloaks. A city full of people in the streets shouting themselves hoarse, Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the lord! The city was electrified and the authorities, the death-trusters they said to one another—do you see? Do you see? The world is going after him!
After that Palm Sunday, that triumphant joyous entrance, all the more did the plot advance, the plot against the life of Jesus, the plot against the life of Lazarus. Lazarus was dangerous to the authorities since he could not be cowed by death, he was dangerous since just by being alive he showed that the power of the authorities, the power of the death-trusters, it was nothing more than shadows and smoke and illusion. Lazarus marched alongside one who held a power far greater than death and for that reason Lazarus was targeted.
To truly experience the saving power of Jesus, to be delivered from the worst that the world has to offer, this is to be caught up and implicated with Jesus To be saved by the power of Jesus is to publicly proclaim the values of Jesus, and to proclaim the values of Jesus, that is not always a safe thing to do, just ask Lazarus. This has always been how it is with the followers of Jesus. The followers of Jesus have often found themselves at risk, targeted by the authorities of their day, under threat by the death-trusters of their day. Diettrich Boenhoffer and Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Because it is not a quaint old tale from the bible, the idea that there are those who seek to get their way by wielding the power of death like a weapon. This is not a quaint old tale from the bible, this is the world we live in.
Many people rise to positions of power and influence because they understand how powerful fear is, understand that death can cast a shadow across a whole city, a whole nation, and that if they hold the power of death like a weapon and threaten people with it, and make them afraid, they might just get there way. This is not just a quaint old tale from the bible, this is the world we live in.
And to be a follower of Jesus, this can make one an enemy of the death-trusters, an enemy of those who cast fear’s shadow.
Because there are those among us, even today, even right this minute, there are those among us who are like Lazarus, who have tasted death and have been called back into life by the power of Jesus Christ. There are those among us who have lived through hell on earth and been called out of those fires back into life. To be a follower of Jesus, to surround yourself with those who follow Jesus, it is to meet people who are living proof that death is not the greatest power in the world. To be a follower of Jesus is to be someone who cannot be cowed into fear by the shadow of death because we know of a power far greater than death.
And so just as the death-trusters plotted against Lazarus, so have believers throughout history found themselves in the crosshairs of those in authority. This has always been a part of what it means to be a Christian, it means to be an enemy of those authorities, those death trusters who would wield death like a weapon. This is not a quaint old tale. On Thursday March 8th, 15 days ago, we hosted an event here at the church, right in this sanctuary. Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense had hundreds of people gathered, resolved to do something about the gun violence in this country, resolved not to be afraid anymore. At 8:49, just before the event was to close, a man walked into the church, confronted the women volunteering for the event, pulled up his jacket and showed them he was carrying a gun before leaving.
He was there to frighten people with the power of death. He was there to threaten people with fear held like a weapon, he was there to terrorize people and try to get his way. He was there to act as an agent of fear, a self appointed representative of the authorities of our day, the death-trusters of our day.
This week, the ministers, officers, and board chairs of the church gathered to discuss how we should respond. And I asked them a question—on this issue, of guns and gun reform, is this just too heated for the church to take public stands on? If we are invited to be part of this movement again, should we ministers politely decline? A man came into the church with a gun and threatened people, all because we were supporting gun reform. Should we take to heart the lesson this man with a gun was trying to teach us and keep our mouths shut in the future?
What shall we do?
As we embark into this Holy Week, as we remember and retell the story of God’s clash with the power of death, we must be honest about the challenges we face. But we must also remember the one who leads the way; who rode on ahead of us into the face of the power of death. So perhaps the question is not, what shall we do? Perhaps the question is, shall we follow after Jesus?