Aloha Friday Message – March 31, 2017 – Fifth Friday of Lent

1713AFC033117 – Stones – Fifth Friday of Lent

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Isaiah 25:7-8 And he will destroy on this mountain {Zion} the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Romans 8:11 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Happy Aloha Friday, Beloved. We are already at the fifth Friday of Lent, and this coming Sunday the Gospel is about Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. The account of Lazarus’ death and resuscitation is powerful both emotionally and spiritually. This family was one of Jesus’ favorites. You can tell by the intimacy he enjoyed there that Jesus loved this trio of believers. It was Mary who anointed Jesus feet with fragrant spikenard ointment and dried his feet with her hair just six days before his Passion and Crucifixion, and this act prefigured his donning a towel and washing the feet of the apostles on that holy might. Jesus was at their house often, and perhaps they had known each other since before he began his ministry. We can imagine how these three people lived in their home in Bethany. There is no mention of other family or parents. Bethany was close to the Mount of Olives. Jesus passed through there on his way to Jerusalem more than once. It was near Bethany that the Disciples witnessed his Ascension. These three, then, were people Jesus really, really cared about. He loved them in a very special way.

Around the time of this event in Jesus’ life, there was a strong movement among some of the people to capture him and kill him. His Apostles, Disciples, and other friends were very concerned about these constant threats on his life. Jesus knew about the threats, and he also knew how it would all turn out, he knew what would ultimately happen to him near Bethany, in the Garden of Olivet. He knew what had happened to Lazarus, too; despite knowing all the pain associated with that knowledge – Lazarus was dead and Jesus would soon be crucified – Jesus stayed with his mission of teaching and healing. When someone tracked him down to tell him about Lazarus, Jesus told them, “He is only sleeping.” They took that to mean Lazarus was resting and getting better; then he told them point-blank that Lazarus had died, but his death would not be the end of the story or his life. Finally he says he will go to his friends’ house so that he can demonstrate God’s power and will. That’s when one of my favorite Bible characters pops into view again. Here’s the passage.

John 11:16 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas fascinates me! He always seems to be a beat behind, or maybe he was just a strong pessimist, or even an incredibly brave hero, “Oh, well, if we’re going to Bethany, we’re all gonna die!” Then again, he might have been the bravest one in the bunch, ready to die with his Master and friend. Later on (John 14:5), Jesus is telling them, “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright. You know where I’m going. I’ll come back and get you.” Thomas pops up again and says, “How can we know where you are going? We don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?” And of course Thomas is most famous for saying, “I won’t believe he’s back until I see him for myself.” Thomas wasn’t in the Cenacle – the Upper Room – when Jesus first appeared to the 11 after his resurrection, and so he got stuck with the moniker “Doubting Thomas.” Odd that he should doubt Jesus was resurrected because he had been a witness to the restoration of Lazarus’ life. He stood there with Jesus, Mary and Martha, and all the other mourners as Jesus, his heart stirred emotion and tears in his eyes, and he shocked them all with what he said in John 11:38-3938 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Everybody there went, “What?!?! It is not a good idea to move that stone. It’s going to smell really bad, and … you don’t really want to do that now. You should have come a week ago when he got sick and you could have healed him, but now, it’s too late. He’s rotting away in his grave.” Jesus must have given them quite a look before he turned toward the tomb where Lazarus had been placed. He told Martha straight out in John 11:4040 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Somebody, maybe several people, maybe even Thomas (although there’s no way to know for sure who moved the stone) had the courage to lift that stone out of the way. Then came The Moment:

John 11:41-43 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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 sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Lazarus came out of the tomb all wrapped up in the trappings of death. He came out to new life. He came out to fresh air, sunshine, solid ground, and within a short time – a few days later, perhaps more – he and Jesus were reclining at the table enjoying a feast prepared by Martha and enjoying the fragrance of the ointment Mary was lovingly massaging into his feet.

Jesus’ tender sympathy for these friends shows us the very human side of his person. His heart is deeply moved, and he groans inwardly because of their pain. He joins them in shedding tears, but he is also hearing the cries of the mourners and sees the impact the loss of Lazarus has on this tiny community of Bethany. Together they had shared in the joys of life, in the happiness of Jesus’ visits, and now they shared in the mourning, weeping, and immense sorrow of these two sisters who had lost their beloved brother, a brother who had entertained Jesus in his home. In fact, these sisters hoped and prayed that they would be reunited with their brother. They just did not expect it to happen that day!

Some of the bystanders had insinuated that if Jesus could make the blind see, he could surely have gotten there in time to save Lazarus’ life. Jesus actions deliberately counter that idea. He gave them something much more powerful that a healing to talk about. He gave them a life-restored in broad daylight in front of many witnesses. They were amazed and told the story of moving that stone over and over.

There are other pretty amazing stories about moving stones in the Bible. I want to give you links to just two of them that involve Jacob – that man who wrestled an Angel of God and earned the blessing of the name יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל (yiś-rā-’êl) {yis-raw-ale’} – which carries the meaning “Triumphant with God”, “who prevails with God.” The first is when Jacob (not yet Isra-El) is at “a certain place” and he uses a stone for a pillow. This is the beautiful story of his dream and “Jacob’s Ladder” found in Genesis 28:10-18. Another fascinating story that has a slight connection to the story of Lazarus is in Genesis 29:1-3. Here Jacob is in or near Haran וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ (ḥā-rān) {kaw-rawn’}. He comes to a well covered by a stone. The stone must be removed to access the life-giving water in the well that belongs to Terah who is the father of Abram, Haran, and Nahor. It is there that Jacob meets and falls in love with Rachael. In both of these stories a stone is connected with bringing glory to God and the beginning of new life.

So let’s get to the point. For whatever reason we have to doubt God’s love or Jesus saving power, he is always ready and able to exceed all our expectations. Whether we go to our death with him is from bravery or loyalty or from a sincere fatalism that recognizes our frailty, if we die with him we shall rise with him. And when we rise with him he will take us where has prepared a place for us. But we need to respond when he calls.

God promised us would destroy the veil of death that separated us from him. He would destroy it on Mount Zion, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was there, outside the city on a wretched place called Golgotha, that God fulfilled his promise as he himself in human form willingly laid down his life and conquered death. He was placed n a tomb behind an immense stone, and that stone moved and the entire world was set free through Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ stone had to be moved for that to happen. It is the same for yours.

Take away the stone. The stone that is laid against the front of your tomb, or even covers your well. Move it! Yes. Take away whatever it is you are hiding behind, whatever it is that keeps you in your tomb of death, or shut off from the life-giving river of the Spirit, and step out to meet your Lord in the Light of his Word. He calls you to come away from the death of flesh to be alive in Spirit, alive in your Creator, your King, your Savior, or as Thomas put it so well in John 20:28 “My Lord and my God!” Come away from the death of sin and come alive, renewed in new life watered by The Spirit, revived, and resuscitated from your former self. Shed the wrappings of death, and the stench of decay. Listen with your ears and hear with your heart. Strip away the things that bind you to your death. Loose the things that stop you from walking into his Light, his Everlasting Life, and the fresh air of a New Creation in you. Be freed of the trappings of death and the thirst for righteousness. Take away the stone! He is calling you:

“Beloved, come forth!”

Rise up. Go to him. Live. He will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. Blesséd be God forever!

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved!

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE) New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Aloha Friday Messages by Charles O. Todd, III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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