Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Lazarus model

All Saints Day is a unique festival in the Church's life.  It is the singular time each year that we name the dead.  We actually name, remember, and claim a place under God's reign for those who have died.  Who else does that?  Sure, it is common to hear people, who may not be active in any particular faith community to say of the dead, "They've gone to a better place," but we can do better than that.  We can and do claim that Jesus' victory over the grave is complete and those who have died live.  In the gospel text appointed for All Saints Day, John 11:32-44, we hear Jesus cry out, "Lazurus, come out!"  Jesus bids us come out of our tombs as well.

(The following questions will be of interest to Law and Gospel preachers.  For a brief, yet complete guide to law/gospel preaching you may purchase my book, Afficting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, by clicking the image on this page.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions quite clearly to set up both our need for Christ (law), and Christ's power to fulfill our need (gospel).  In verses 32-38, all the action is around the power of death:  Mary weeps, the Jews weep, even Jesus weeps, and we are told, "is greatly disturbed" by Lazurus' death.  This scene reminds us that death has a fierce grip on us, and apart from Christ our death will be our annihilation.  But then in verse 39 the action changes.  Even though Jesus is yet disturbed he says those around him, "Take away the stone."  Martha protests, but he challenges her to remember his power.  Shortly thereafter he calls forth Lazurus.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  If we can agree that the text is functiong as law when it makes clear our need for Christ, and the text is functioning as gospel when Christ is presented to us, then we have here an example of both Law and Gospel being present.  In the first half of the scene we are shown the power of death, and in the second half, Christ's power over death. This, then, is an unusual text in that both Law and Gospel are present.

3. With whom are you identifying in the text?  We have several options here.  We could identify with Lazurus, the dead man, or with the sisters who grieve their brother's death.  If we choose to identify with Lazurus, then our task as preachers will be to bring our listeners into the place of the dead man, and have them experience resurrection.  If we choose to identify with the grieving sisters, then our task will be to show the miracle of resurrection to the disbelieving loved ones of the deceased.  Either way, this will be challenging.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  I don't see a call to obedience in this text.  The call to obedience is the part of the text that exhorts us in how to follow Christ once we have received resurrection.  This portion of the sermon will have to find its inspiration in other texts.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Couplets often come from the characters with whom we are identifying in the text.  This passage is no different.  If we identify with Lazurus, our couplets will likely be pairs like dead/alive, defeated/victorious, bound/free.  If we identify with the sisters, our couplets will be more like grieving/praising, doubting/believing, separated/united.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Archived under 2012 Year B Gospel, All Saints Day, is Steve Albertin's fine work on this text.  He follows the drama of the text perfectly as his first move (D1) is entitled "Disappointed."  Then he takes up the question of doubt in the second move (D2):  "Disbelief."  In D3 we are are confronted with the result of our despair:  "Doomed."  The fulcrum of the story, vs. 39, is highlighted perfectly in Albertin's P4: "Defiant".  Jesus refuses to let the dead remain dead!  The result of this in P5 is "Believing," and finally in P6 we are urged to go out witnessing and "Unbinding."  This is a fine example of how this model can lift up the major moves in a text.  Go to to learn more.

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic.  Henry Mitchell often exhorted his students to be "the first ones to experience ecstasy."  What better story than this to experience ecstasy? This story demands celebration as it unfolds. Go for it!

Blessings on your proclamation!

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