Just An Ordinary Day at Church
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. If I do your funeral, I guarantee I will say those words. They are said at almost every funeral. This is one of the seven I Am sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John and it is the most powerful. This is what the Christian faith is founded on and it is why we are here today to worship. We worship a God who sent his son to die for our sins and to defeat death. We worship a God who says, I AM the resurrection and the life.
In a small catholic church in northern Italy an 86 year old parishioner had a fatal heart attack during the early-morning service. The priest there simply asked for the body to be covered with a white cloth and continued on with the service. In Italy it is illegal to move a body without the authorization of the local magistrate. The priest had only two choices that morning, to continue with the mass or to cancel. His quote afterward was, “What could I have done? The Holy Mass has to be celebrated. It is not right to make an exception for one individual. Only people who do not understand the point of Mass would not understand the logic of my decision. We could not stop. We were united together in church and we prayed for him.”
I understand where he is coming from. As Christians we celebrate death as a step into a world we once knew. It is not the end but only the beginning. Why stop worship of that fact when a person dies. To do so would go against our theology and our core beliefs. If you die during our service, today or any other day, please know we will go on, not out of disrespect but out of our faith.
The truth is what happened in that small Italian church is not new to a Christian church. In Acts 20 there is a story of a young man named Eutychus (You-Te-Kiss). He was listening to Paul preach in a third story room. Eutychus was sitting in the window and as Paul’s sermon went on past midnight, he fell asleep and then fell out of the window and died. The scripture says, “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate.” They continued to worship the resurrected God after Paul performs a resurrection.
I am the resurrection and the life. That is what we are here to celebrate and worship. We are on the fifth Sunday of Lent. The 40 day journey only has two more weeks left. We can see the finish line and we are starting to get anxious. As we started this journey I got the inevitable question about Sunday’s during Lent. If you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter you get 46, but we always talk about the forty days of Lent, so where do the other six go to? The other six are the six Sundays in Lent. Those days do not count on this journey because they are days when we celebrate the resurrection. The question is always asked, if I gave up chocolate can I eat it on Sundays since they don’t count? My answer is some people do and some people don’t. Sunday is never an excuse to indulge or binge. If you gave up chocolate you shouldn’t go out and eat a five pound bar of Hersey’s each Sunday that defeats the purpose of the Lenten journey. We find strength in God through these forty days. Sundays are a day of celebration and a day we echo our Savior’s words that he is the resurrection and life.
What about the story that this statement is wrapped up in? Why does Jesus say that when he is face to face with the sisters of his dead friend? Why in the world do we have this story now? Aren’t we supposed to wait until after Easter to talk about resurrection? This story is important for thousands of reasons but you are in luck, I’m not going into all thousand this morning. Jesus hears of his good friend Lazarus becoming ill. But instead of running to his side like Mary and Martha wanted, Jesus hangs out where he was for a couple of days. He says, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.” Like last week, when Jesus sees the need of the blind man and says it is an opportunity to do God work, Jesus sees Lazarus’ sickness as an opportunity to glorify God.
Jesus finally makes his way to Bethany and is greeted by Martha. When he gets there Lazarus has been dead for four days. When Marta sees Jesus she blames him for Lazarus’ death and said if he was there he could have stopped it. Then she hears the words, I am the resurrection and the life. Mary does the same thing and blames Jesus lack of urgency as the result of Lazarus’ death but Jesus knows it is the grief talking. When Jesus is confronted with the death of his friend, he weeps and then he gets angry. He gets angry that everyone expected him to be here to save him. They all blame him. Finally Jesus prays to God, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.” Jesus asks to glorify God and then calls Lazarus out of tomb. And a four day dead cadaver, still wrapped in the burial shroud, walks out of the tomb. Jesus then tells the crowd, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”
We hear this story the Sunday before Jesus’ triumphant entry because it points us to the power of Jesus the Christ. In his conversation with Martha, Martha confesses that she understands that Lazarus will be resurrected at the end of time. But then Jesus looks at her and says, “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am the resurrection and the life.” We don’t have to wait until the end of time to be resurrected, to be loosed from the things that bind us. Sunday’s are a celebration of the resurrection all around us. Sunday is a day when sinners like you and me gather to celebrate our resurrection. We have been picked up and transformed by God’s love and grace. We come here today to worship this God.
We had Stephen Hill and Leon Scarlett on our prayer list for the last couple of weeks. They have been dealing with illness and so we lifted them up in prayer. Last we learned that they won their battles. They laugh at the face of illness now because they have been made whole in that next life. They have been resurrected from their disease. We celebrate that every Sunday. We celebrate those who have been resurrected from sin. We celebrate the addicts, the adulterers, the criminals, the murders, the liars, the conceited, and all the others who have seen the light and who have been transformed by God. We celebrate the fact that in the midst of the struggle against sin, in the midst of sorrow and grief, and in the face of tragedy God has been glorified. It’s just an ordinary day at church when we welcome a sinner who has been resurrected. It’s just an ordinary day at church when we see a dead man wake after four days. It’s just an ordinary day at church when tragedy is turned into glory.
ESPN’s show E:60 did a touching piece about the story of Jason Ray. Jason Ray was the mascot for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was Rameses the Ram and he traveled with the team to New Jersey last year for the NCAA tournament. While he was there he was hit by a car and then died two days later in the hospital. When he arrived there the doctors could not find any brain activity, Jason arrived there brain dead. His parents were notified and they came up to be with him. During this struggle to decide to take him off life support they were confronted with the reality that Jason wanted to be an organ donor. Through their pain, through the tragedy, his parents followed their son’s wish.
Ronald Griffin was about to die until an exact match was found and he received a new heart. Dennis Korzelius’ liver was shutting down and he would have passed away if he didn’t receive his new liver. David Erwin battled diabetes all his life and wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his new kidney. Antawn Hunter was only 15 when he received his new kidney which gave him a new life. Over all, Jason’s tragedy helped or saved 50 lives. For the Ray family and all those who received a piece of Jason they are humbled by his dedication and the grace of one who made it possible, God. They believe what we repeat every Sunday by coming here and worshipping. Out of death come hope. Our hope is found in the one who says I am the resurrection and the life.
Today is just an ordinary day in church. It is a day when we come here and are witnesses to the power of God, to the love of God, to the grace of God. We are here today to celebrate the resurrection. The resurrection that happens in our lives and for the one that has defeated death. We come here today to worship the one who will go into Jerusalem next week and live out his statement, I am the resurrection and the life.