Fifth Sunday in Lent – Year A
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
“I am the resurrection and the life,” saith the Lord. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Since before medieval times, these words have been said at the beginning of the burial rites of the English Church, and post-1789, of The Episcopal Church. And this is a meet and right thing so to do as these two verses encapsulate the Christian view of both life and death.
In today’s lengthy gospel reading, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. As the story begins, we hear that Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, has fallen ill. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, hoping that he will come and heal their brother. But Jesus delays, on purpose it seems, and by the time he arrives, Lazarus has already died and been buried four days. When Jesus arrives, he is greeted by Martha, who says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus responds by saying, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, responds by saying, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” But Jesus has something else in mind. He says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
What does it mean for Jesus to be the resurrection and the life? For Jesus to be the resurrection means that physical death has no power over those who believe in Jesus. Our future is determined by our faith in Christ, not by our death. For Jesus to be the life means that all of our present reality is also transformed by Christ’s resurrection. In other words, at our baptism, we begin to experience eternal life here and now. 
Next, he asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha responds with a powerful confession of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
With these words, Martha affirms her faith in Jesus as the one who has power over death and the one who has come to bring new life. This new life we began to live at our baptism is not devoid of drama and high emotion as we see in Jesus’s encounter with Martha’s sister Mary. When he sees her weeping, he is “greatly disturbed in spirit and troubled” with the RSV’s translation being a bit tame. The text isn’t saying that Jesus is with in compassion with Mary in her grief. The Greek word translated as “greatly disturbed in spirit” connotates anger and indignation, and the word translated as troubled also can mean agitated. Later at Lazarus’s tomb, he is “deeply moved” or “disturbed” again. Jesus is angry at something, and Mary is beside herself with grief. While biblical scholars disagree on why he is angry, the Greek text is clear that Jesus is indeed angry. His weeping is in the midst of his anger. It’s painful to envision Jesus wailing and crying out in anger. Yes, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but he doesn’t shy away from expressing the deepest of human emotions.
I think it might be helpful for us to remember this the next time our emotions get the best of us, and even more importantly the next time someone else’s emotions seem way over the top. Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, death no longer has ultimate hold over us. But we who are above ground breathing in this world – we who experience, like our Lord, the drama of everyday life with its highs and lows, the dark anger and ridiculous joy – we who live and believe in Him will never die. In the resurrected life we begin to experience in the here and now, our priorities are changed. The rich are sent away empty and the hungry are fed; the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up. We try to live our lives focused on others, especially those most in need, but sometimes, unlike Jesus, our deepest emotions overcome us and we forget that we have died to sin and been raised to newness of life.
Thanks be to God, as we heard in the opening collect, God can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men (and women). Even those of us whose dark emotions sometimes get the best of us, and perhaps even those of us who judge those whose emotions don’t always stay within the neat and tidy confines of polite society.
As Lent grinds to a close, we continue to ask the Lord to order our unruly wills and affections. But five weeks in, we know full well that our wills and affections, marred by sin, aren’t easily ordered by anyone, God included. It won’t be until Resurrection at the Last Day that we will fully love “the thing that God commandest and desire that which he dost promise.” Like Martha, it’s easy for us to believe Jesus when he says he is the resurrection, but today he reminds us that he is also the life. For Lazarus, his newness of life begins not in his future, but his present. The point of this story is not that Lazarus was raised from the dead, for not long after this story, he dies again, and this time he stays dead. The real point is that Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead and that his voice carries through even the walls of the grave. Even through our tears and emotional outbursts. Even when we fail at keeping our Lenten disciplines. Even when we are faced with the gruesome torture and execution of our Lord as we will be during Holy Week.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” saith the Lord. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” May these words of Our Lord sustain us through the gate of death at Calvary to the joy of the empty tomb at Easter.
 John 11:25-26
 New Interpreter’s Bible 585.
 NIB 586.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!