In the name of One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” This was the final miracle (or as the author refers to them, the final “sign” performed by Jesus) in John’s Gospel. Among the most revealing of His signs in John:
He encounters the woman at the well, and reveals himself to her as living water (4:10); He feeds the five thousand, and reveals himself to the disciples as the bread of life (6:35); He heals a man born blind, and reveals himself as the light of the world (9:5). And now he raises Lazarus from the dead, and reveals himself as the resurrection and the life (11:25). 
This was definitely the ultimate sign of God’s power at work in Jesus, and the text says that many people believed because of this event. That is the point of the “signs” in this Gospel – to make those who have not been able to recognize the truth about Jesus see Him for who and what He really is: the Son of God; redeemer of the world; the bread of life and living water; the light of the world and the resurrection and life.
But what did those who were there that day understand about the raising of Lazarus? “They believed,” but was that their initial reaction? And what about Lazarus? What did HE think? What did HE understand about the significance of his walking out of his tomb after his body had begun to decay?
Because the raising of Lazarus comes, as it does, in very close proximity to the Last Supper and the beginning of the Passion of Jesus, the author of John’s Gospel does not give us much information about the aftermath of Lazarus’ rising from the tomb. We are left to speculate about it and try out scenarios that make sense to us.
Try for a minute to put yourself into this story. Who would you be? Are you a disciple; a person from town; Martha or Mary; or maybe Lazarus himself? It was an interesting scene. Jesus came into Bethany, a day late and a dollar short, as far as Mary and Martha were concerned. They had sent word to Him before Lazarus died, asking for His help. Jesus had seemingly ignored their request, even though He was incredibly close to the family, and not far away.
So, after Lazarus was four days dead, Jesus showed up at the edge of town and was met, not by the sisters of Lazarus, but only by Martha. Mary stayed back at the house – a passive-aggressive way of letting Jesus know that she was angry with Him for His failure to save her brother. But while Martha was more straightforward, she was just as mad. When she saw Jesus, she let him have it. “If you had been here – LIKE WE ASKED – Lazarus would still be alive.” What a greeting for the Son of God. Her ability to talk to Jesus in that manner is clearly intended to let us know just how close they really were. After all, you can say some really hurtful things to family that you would never say to an acquaintance, because you know that they will always love you.
The town folk gathered around Mary, followed her as she went out to meet Jesus. They saw her anger melt away as she got close to Him. She knelt down and complained plaintively to Him that He should have been there to help His friend. So, needless to say, there was a lot of drama around the scene, even before Jesus approached the tomb. But what happened then was something no one was prepared for.
Jesus walked up to the tomb, ignoring the fact that Lazarus had been dead so long that his body was seriously in decay, and He called Lazarus to come out of the tomb – out of the finality of death – into the light, into the company of the living. And OUT HE CAME!
The crowd must have been absolutely blown away by what they saw. Imagine that you had gone to the funeral of your friend. You had repeatedly gone to the tomb for the mandated three days of mourning. Each day (in spite of the rock covering the tomb) the smell had gotten worse, to the point that you were glad it was the fourth day and that you didn’t have to go back again. And then, out of the stench, out of death, walked Lazarus.
I think that the initial reaction would have been fear, if not downright terror. There is a reason that so many movies have been made about zombies – it’s not just the relentless, slow-motion chase, or the feeding on our brains that scares us, it is primarily that death is and has always been the end for our bodies. People who die are not supposed to get up and walk around anymore. And if this was scary and confusing to the bystanders, how must it have felt for Lazarus?
One minute he was in whatever place, on whatever plane of existence that his soul occupied postmortem. And the next thing, his heart began to beat and he began to breathe. Then he heard Jesus’ voice and began to walk out of the tomb into the blindingly bright sun – weak-kneed, frightened and confused. What was Lazarus’ first conscious thought after he “woke up?” I imagine it as something like you would have seen the actor, Christopher Lloyd do on the old show, Taxi. It would have been an exaggerated double take, sort of a "whaaat is going on? That was really weird!" And then Lazarus and the family would have had to process it all. They had to figure out what it meant to be raised from the dead by the God of all creation.
We too need to figure out what the raising of Lazarus means. From this morning's Old Testament reading, we heard that God said to Ezekiel, "And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord." (Ezekiel 3:12-14). "You will know that I am The Lord and will act." In this modern age - an age of scientific proof - it is extremely important for us to keep in mind that God is God and acts in this world. That, I think, was exactly what Jesus was reflecting on when he raised Lazarus. God has the power to bring life out of death and will lift us out of death into everlasting life if only we will recognize that God is God and we are not and act accordingly.
From this morning's epistle reading, we hear this: "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. (Romans 8:11). St. Paul understood that true life, both now (on earth) and everlasting life, can come only through the power of the Holy Spirit of God. And that this all-powerful God is ready, willing and definitely able to act in your life.
So, what does Lazarus rising to life mean for us? It means that we too have been raised from the dead. Whether the Holy Spirit that our Creator blew into our nostrils at birth has been buried under our jobs or our family demands or under food or alcohol or meaningless sex: no matter what has buried your Spirit, Jesus God is ready, willing and able to raise you from that death, into eternal life with the God who made everything that is.