Jesus and Lazarus

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Christ is Risen! It warms my heart to see all of you here today as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. What I love about reading scripture over and over again is how different words or phrases stick out to you at the times that you read it. Now there are so many wonderful and incredible parts to Luke’s account of the resurrection, but the part that really struck me this time was the last verse. Now Peter is the only one who seems to heed the seemingly ‘idle tale’ of the women, so he runs to the tomb to see it for himself. Now the part that gets me is that Luke specifically tells us that all he sees when he gets into the tomb are the linen cloths all by themselves.
That is the part that stuck out to me this time. Why does Luke even tell us that? What is the point? Obviously Jesus isn’t there so why include this seemingly minor detail about the linen cloths being left by themselves? When that phrase stuck out to me I remembered something I heard a while back. I remembered that on All Saints Sunday way back on the first Sunday in November we heard the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. As I was preparing for that sermon, I was listening to some theologians on a podcast talk about that story of Lazarus and one of the passing comments was about the details around Lazarus coming out of the tomb.
In the raising of Lazarus we hear there that there are strips of cloth bound around his hands and feet as well as his face. This was a well established practice in Israel during this time. After the person passed away, the body was washed and if the family could afford it, they would then use nard or myrrh or some other kind of perfume to anoint the body for their burial and then they would wrap the person in those cloths. So when Lazarus comes out Jesus instructs them to all the mourners to unbind him from his cloths and let him go. So we see, as I mentioned, that the cloth strips were used in burial and we see specifically how they came into play with Lazarus.
So again, as Lazarus comes out he is still covered in these burial cloths, still shrouded in death, and he needs those there to remove the cloths from him. He needs others to help remove that aspect of death from him. We also know that even though this great miracle of his raising and this removing of death from all around him, that he will eventually die again. It is an incredible miracle and gif that he can offer to Lazarus as well as Mary and Martha, if even for a short time.
If we go back to the resurrection story today with Jesus, we see Peter stooping into the tomb and not only is Jesus no there, but the linen cloths that were bound around his hands and feet and around his face are there all by themselves. As Jesus leaves the tomb, some time before early dawn on the first day of the week, he leaves those cloths behind in the tomb. I don’t believe this is some passing comment that Luke makes. I think Luke very specifically tells us that the linen cloths are there. It’s one thing to say that the tomb was empty, but it’s something entirely different to say that the tomb was empty and the linen cloths were left behind in the tomb.
I say that for two reasons. The first reason seems very practical, yet important to note. In Matthew’s resurrection story we see that there were false stories being told that the disciples had come in the middle of the night and stolen Jesus’ body so that they could say that he had been raised from the dead. If Luke includes the details that the linen cloths were left behind that gives us the readers, the impression that there is no reason why they would do that. In fact it would be unheard of to remove them since he had already gone through these incredibly important burial rituals. So Luke tells us that the cloths are there so that no one can say that it was anything other than Jesus raising from the dead.
The second reason has far more spiritual reasons than practical ones and that is what really struck me when I kept focusing on these seemingly silly linen cloths. Remember, when Lazarus is raised and his friends and family see him, he is still covered in the cloths, he is still covered in the shroud of death. When we hear about the resurrection of Jesus we see two significant differences: 1. There is no body to be seen. Jesus is just gone. But 2. there are his linen cloths. The very fact that Jesus is not there and the cloths are speak volumes about Jesus and God’s plan for this world.
Lazarus, though raised, is still shrouded in death by these linen cloths and he needs people to help him remove that from him. Jesus doesn’t. The cloths are just still there. Death has nothing to do with Jesus. The linen cloths cannot and will not remain on his body. On Friday, Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil and gave us that forgiveness that I talked about on Friday. On Sunday, today, when Jesus is raised from the dead, the very notion of death, even the symbol of death like linen cloths could not even be a part of himself. Jesus is beyond death, Jesus is above sin, and Jesus is far greater and more powerful than the devil could ever dream of being.
That is the good news of Easter. That in the midst of the tears, the sorrow, the the depression, the sense of idle tales that encompassed all of Friday and Saturday and even parts of Sunday, Jesus is risen. Not only has Jesus risen from the dead, but that in his rising all sorrow life has been simply cast off and left in the tomb. Death is cast aside like some annoying bug that you find in your shoulder. Flicked away and left behind. Death has been shaken off like the dust on your sandals when you brush them off as you enter a house or wipe it off on the welcome mat.
For through his resurrection we are all given a welcome mat from which we can enter into the household, the kingdom of God. It is a message of welcome that tells us that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were all for the sake of us, for this world. He did it so that we might have life and life abundant. And that when that life does come to an end we know that, just like for Jesus, it is not the end of the story. For in our dying we do rise again to eternal life. As we celebrate this Easter and every Easter we have on this earth, when we shout “Christ is Risen” it is not just a declaration that Jesus rose from the dead, but that he conquered death. Not that he just conquered death for himself, but for the whole world for all time. That is the power of the message that those linen cloths were left by themselves in the tomb. The power of sin, death, and the devil has been conquered by God’s one and only son Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. So today and everyday we proclaim the mystery of faith in shouts of “Alleluia” Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Amen.
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