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Is Death The End?

For the audio-only life, click here.

For the full text of the sermon, read on!

Hello, friends, and welcome back. I’m the Rev. Sare Liz Anuszkiewicz and this is the Sunday Sermon. If you’re looking for the bits of the bible I’ve referenced in this sermon, you can find the link right here on the website where you found this audio file. For the nerds in the know, this is the fifth Sunday in Lent, and here’s the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 26, 2023. 

Good morning! It’s still Lent, and we haven’t gone through the pain and agony of Holy Week, of watching Jesus be betrayed, say goodbye, get tortured and killed by the Roman State. And it’s still not Easter, where we see Jesus’ resurrection, The Resurrection, and the ultimate symbol of God’s triumph over death. Easter: when we bring back the ‘Alleluias’ with bells and joy. Nope, not Easter, yet.

But still, we get a little taste of that triumph over death with the resurrection of Lazarus, one of Jesus’ closest friends.

Now, Lazarus was never one of Jesus’ students. He never, so we’re given to understand, dropped everything and followed Jesus like his disciples did. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, who we’ve heard about before, and yes, this is the Mary that may or may not have been the wife of Jesus, depending on which Biblical Scholar you listen to.

So, why then are we reading about a resurrection before The Resurrection? 

Well, I think it has to do with the way we look at and think about sin and death. Now, I do understand that mostly we don’t want to think about death, but it is useful to do. Doctors see death as failure. Some religious people see death as punishment demanded by God. And most people see death as the end.

And this is true when we talk about the death that comes at the end of life as we know it, as well as all those little deaths we’ve had to experience in our lives, and still have before us: the death of a career, the death of hope, the death of that time in your life because now you’ve changed and you’re different and you moved away, got the divorce, left the job, your children moved out, you associate with different people. Every major change in our lives involves a little death.

But every major change in our lives also involves resurrection, which can only be seen clearly after death. It’s that moment when you stand up again, when you find new life, quite different from what you had before, but good, holy, and maybe even better, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

Jesus died, as we’re going to hear about in incredible detail, starting next Sunday, and then all through the week until the Sunday after that, and he died for our sins. But what does that mean? Does that mean he was sacrificed, like the lamb we call him? Human sacrifice, the last God required? (Just like he’s pictured in the book of Revelation?) It’s a popular image, despite its grotesque and horrible nature, but no. No, I don’t think that’s what it means, no matter how popular it is. Jesus died for our sins. He did it so we could see, so the story could be passed down from generation to generation, that sin isn’t what we think it is, and death isn’t what we think it is.

So let’s talk about sin for a minute. Because the culture he was from really thought that every sin was tangible – like cat hair – and it stayed with you until a sacrifice made it go away. Every sin was tangible and if you had even one clinging to you, God wouldn’t love you any more, God would punish you. Every sin was tangible, and sins you didn’t atone for were the reason for all the evil, all the calamity, all the pain and sickness everyone experienced, everywhere.

And Jesus, well, we’ve heard in reading after reading this Lent how Jesus preached against that frame of mind, that cultural view. For Jesus, a sin was just a mistake, and half the broken rules the people around him thought were sins… really should have been suggestions and not rules to begin with.

So Jesus died for our sins. To teach us that sins are just mistakes, not the unremovable cat hair or dog hair that God will punish us for, and that if we’ve lived a troubled life with sorrow and turmoil, that that doesn’t mean that God is punishing us for all the dog hair-like sin we never shed.

But why did he have to die?

Well, death is the ultimate. It was the ultimate punishment they thought God could call down on you (not every ancient Jewish person believed in hell – only about half of them did, but that’s another sermon for another time), and a shameful death was certainly (or so they thought) a sign that God didn’t love you anymore. And Jesus knew different. He knew that death wasn’t actually the end. He knew that God has never and will never and could never demand anyone’s death, and thinking that God had and did and would was a gross misunderstanding. A popular misunderstanding, but still a terrible one.

And you know, a lot of people died while Jesus was teaching, and he only offered resurrection to two of them – a twelve year old girl he didn’t know, and one of his personal friends. Because his point wasn’t really to give people extended lifetimes. His point was to teach us what was true, and what was real.

Tune in next week for the next installment.


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