John 11:17-25

(Peter Rollins – Orthodox Heretic) – Late that evening a group of unknown disciples packed their few belongings and left for a distant shore, for they could not bear to stay another moment in the place where their Messiah had just been crucified. Weighed down with sorrow, they left that place, never to return. Instead they traveled a great distance in search of a land that they could call home. After months of difficult travel, they finally happened upon an isolated area that was ideal for setting up a new community. Here they found fertile ground, clean water, and a nearby forest from which to harvest material needed to build shelter. So they settled there, founding a community far from Jerusalem, a community where they vowed to keep the memory of Christ alive and live in simplicity, love, and forgiveness, just as he had taught them.

The members of this community lived in great solitude for over a hundred years, spending their days reflecting on the life of Jesus and attempting to remain faithful to his ways. And they did all this despite the overwhelming sorrow in their heart.

But their isolation was eventually broken when, early one morning, a small band of missionaries reached the settlement. These missionaries were amazed at the community they found. What was most startling to them was that these people had no knowledge of the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, for they had left Jerusalem before his return from the dead on the third day. Without hesitation, the missionaries gathered together all the community members and recounted what had occurred after the imprisonment and bloody crucifixion of their Lord.

Scripture: John 11:17-27

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus[a] had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[b] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.23 Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again.24 Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life.[c] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?27 She said to him, Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[d] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.

Question and Discussion: What is the Resurrection?

That evening there was a great festival in the camp as people celebrated the news of the missionaries. Yet, as the night progressed, one of the missionaries noticed that the leader of the community was absent. This bothered the young man, so he set out to look for this respected elder. Eventually he found the community’s leader crouched low in a small hut on the fringe of the village, praying and weeping.

“Why are you in such sorrow?” asked the missionary in amazement. “Today is a time for great celebration.”

“It may indeed be a day for great celebration, but this is also a day of sorrow,” replied the elder, who remained crouched on the floor. “Since the founding of this community we have followed the ways taught to us by Christ. We pursued his ways faithfully even though it cost us dearly, and we remained resolute despite the belief that death had defeated him and would one day defeat us also.”

The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the eyes.

“Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life.”

With this the elder turned and left the hut, making his way to the celebrations that could be heard dimly in the distance, leaving the missionary crouched on the floor. (Peter Rollins – Orthodox Heretic)

You see when we think about resurrection we are captivated by what’s to come. The crux of our salvation becomes dependent on a future event. The power and the beauty of the empty tomb draws us near, and we are expectant to receive the promise it entails. So we spend this life hoping for the next and neglect the life that has been given to us. We cash in our chips too early to put in a deposit for extra jewels on our heavenly crowns. It would seem as though for us the resurrection has become an event situated in the past and the future.

Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way, “We can’t just focus on the empty tomb [and I would add a future promise] and forget to speak to the gardner.” In other words, the resurrection is not just an event, but is the living and breathing God in our midst. When Christ responds to Martha in a typical paradoxical fashion he folds both past and future onto himself in the present, when he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Here Christ bends the resurrection to the present day. It becomes not just a tale from the past or our future hope, but a present reality. Wherever he is, there is life and a re-creation. If we want to know what resurrection is, we look at the God in the flesh in our midst. Serving and communing with those on the fringes


In fact when we neglect the present realities “[We] deny the resurrection, every time [we] do not serve my neighbor,  [we] deny the resurrection every time I walk away from people who are poor, I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. I affirm every now and again when I stand up for those on their knees , I affirm when I cry out for those people who have had their tongues torn out, weep for those people who have no more tears to shed….”  – Peter Rollins

To live into the resurrection and the promises of the empty tomb is to dwell with Christ in our midst and through the power of the Spirit, be the body of the One who claims to be resurrection.