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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Unbind Him and Let Him Go - 11/04/2018

“Unbind him and let him go.” This is the line that consistently stood out loudly and plainly this week, and I think I may know why.

I’m here to tell you we had a Lazarus of sorts in our midst just last week.

It happened in Confirmation Class.

Our class topic was Martin Luther, appropriate for Reformation weekend. Much of what we talked about had to do with Luther’s teachings around what it means that we are forgiven our sins by this merciful and astonishingly patient and loving God of ours. Like Luther, many of us also have trouble really believing that we are truly forgiven. And so even though we confess and hears words of forgiveness, like we did at the beginning of our service, we walk around out there as though we are still bound by those sins and carrying their weight and consequence with us everywhere we go.

So we did an activity to help remind ourselves that God does forgive us for our sin, as much and as often as we need to be forgiven, and that we are not bound by that sin any longer.

The exercise was called “Here I Sit.” (Read instructions)

It’s a clever exercise that was not only beneficial for the middle school students forced to do goofy things like this when Pastor Ann says so … I don’t think any one of us here would be hurt at all by remembering that when we confess and receive forgiveness of our sins, they are truly flushed down a proverbial toilet, gone forever. We are no longer bound by that sin and so we should live like that. That was the point of the lesson.

The kids took it even further and walked right into this week’s Gospel lesson without even knowing it when pretty soon, here comes Cody and his goofy partners back into the room, and Cody is completely bound and practically paralyzed by nearly a whole roll of toilet paper wrapped around most of his body. He couldn’t do anything. He could barely walk. He could not sit down. He couldn’t put his hands together to pray. He couldn’t have caught himself if he fell, nor anyone else. He certainly couldn’t “wash thy hands.”

And then, as if Jesus stepped into the room and said “Unbind him and let him go,” Cody’s friends took pity on him and they did just that, and Cody resumed normal activity in our confirmation class gathering.

So that’s the first way this text took human form, quite literally, this week.

And there was more in store. God is a really good and persistent teacher.

This year in coming into this text, I’ve come to an entirely different take on the story of the day Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

We read in the story that “Jesus wept.” It is well known as the shortest sentence in the bible … ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς,(edákrysen o Iesoús), translated literally as “Jesus shed tears.” Not only is it the shortest sentence in the Bible, I think it is also one of the most well-loved statements of our scriptures because we all know what it is to weep. Jesus had this experience in his 30+ year walk on human feet, he felt the world with human hands, and he experienced life with all those human senses.

It’s a short sentence that packs a whole lot of punch.

Before reading the story again this time, I had understood this to mean that Jesus wept for Lazarus, just as so many of us do when someone we love dies.

But that assumption that Jesus is crying for Lazarus doesn’t really match up with what else Jesus does here.

This story starts before our reading today. When Lazarus got very ill, Mary and Martha had asked Jesus to come. “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:3) But Jesus didn’t go right away. He waited two days to begin his journey to his friends’ bedside. Instead he chose to go into Judea, where his message was angering the Jewish Leaders and people were beginning to turn against him. While he was there, Lazarus died. And Jesus knew this. “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (11:14-15)

But he doesn’t go directly to the tomb of Lazarus. First, he goes to Lazarus’ sisters and he listens to both of them and their disappointment that he did not come right away. Both sisters lash out at Jesus in their grief, in that emptiness left by the loss of their brother, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.” (11: 21 & 11: 32). And only then, does Jesus make his way to the tomb, weeping and grieving with Martha and Mary and all the mourners who had gathered to mark Lazarus’ death.

It seems to me, that if Jesus were weeping because Lazarus was dead, he would have started long before that moment. He would have started that moment in Judea when he knew that Lazarus had drawn his last breath.

That’s not what happens. Jesus weeps after he hears the desperation and disappointment of Mary and Martha. Jesus wept for them.

And perhaps that gives all of us, survivors ourselves – mourners of parents and spouses, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends – perhaps it gives us some pretty hopeful news to sink our souls into on this All Saints weekend.

We’ve lost a lot of our siblings in Christ this year. It’s been very difficult for many of us. There has been a lot of weeping, a lot of cries of desperation and disappointment. A lot of us continuing our own journeys with what feels like gaping holes where our loved ones used to stand.

And what we hear in this story is that Jesus weeps and mourns right along with us. Jesus knew that Lazarus was his best self ever, upon returning to his first home with God. Jesus knew despite the finality of earthly death which we will all face one day, Lazarus had come to see the Glory of God.

The worry is not there. The weeping is not there .The grief is not there. The worry and weeping and grief is in the sorrow and the hurt that Jesus knows we also experience in this life. He knows because he too experienced it. He knows because he too saw people he loved, like Martha and Mary, suffer greatly in their loss.

And in the midst of his own tears he says “Unbind him. Let him go…”  

In other words, my beloved mourners, Jesus says, free the hands and feet of your loved ones, hands and feet bound with every mistake and every misstep. Your loved one isn’t bound by that any longer. Uncover their faces – hidden by the clothes of the grave that make it possible to only see, smell, taste, feel and hear the hurt or guilt we carry in this life. Unbind him and let him go because he is not wrapped up in the regrets of life that we all bear – because all that stuff that binds us while we are here is not what has the last word – Unbind him and let him go. Because God has the last word now, not our sin or our regret, not the ways others have hurt us, not our guilt, not our embarrassments, not our bad hair days, not even those days when we turned far from God. No, the last word, for us Christians anyway, is Jesus, the waters of our baptism, a meal of forgiveness calling us into the Priesthood of All Believers, and a promise of seeing the Glory of God in its fullness, a spectacular reality already known by all these saints who we survive. A unbound  life that awaits all of us too. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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