Full Stop: A Sermon on John 11

Post Author: Rev. Sarah Schaffner


The telegrams all read the same: “The Secretary of War regrets to inform you that your son was killed in action.” Stop. “Further details will be forwarded to you as they become available.” Stop. There was absolutely no way to argue. No questions you could ask. No more information you could glean. Your son is dead. Full Stop. In an instant, the stone rolls in front of your tomb.

There’s a spot on the x-ray. We need to do more tests. Come back in immediately. Full stop. There doesn’t seem to be a heartbeat. It’s nothing you did. You can always try again for another baby. Stop. Yes, there is someone else. But we’ve been broken for a really long time. I’ll never stop loving you. I’m just not in love with you anymore. Stop. The stone rolls in front of your tomb.

In an instant, that massive boulder blocks your only way out, and all that air and light and breath and spirit is sucked away and you are left alone – bound to the darkness, and your only path of escape has turned into a wall in front of you. For awhile, you might cling to that shred of hope – that maybe the test was wrong, maybe they’ll change their minds, maybe some miracle will happen. So you fight; you scream for help; you dig at the walls; try and claw your way to the outside. When you fall into a heap on the floor, sobbing with exhaustion and weary with sorrow, you finally give in. For when the end has come; when the lights have dimmed, when the air is heavy and your breath has slowed, there is absolutely nothing you can do. Full Stop.

Her brother wasn’t able to hear the rolling of the stone as it sealed his fate forever. But, she was, and running toward Jesus, the sound echoed in her ears. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Stop. If only… There’s nothing more to be done now. It’s been four days Jesus; the stench, the darkness, the sobbing, his death. If only, Lord. If only… Stop. A stone rolls in front of her tomb.

It seems, however, Jesus doesn’t understand those full stops the way we do. For Jesus, full stops are merely a beginning of an ellipsis: a segue into something else, into something greater. For Jesus, a full stop is the beginning of where the glory of God is about to be made known. “Show me,” he says. “Show me this full stop you talk of.”

“Come and see what we say is true,” the sisters answer. “Come and see the one you love.”

For a moment Jesus stops too. For a moment the weeping he hears is his own. For a moment he sees that stone and feels the light and the breath and the spirit being sucked out of the room. For a moment the stone rolls in front of the tomb.

But then the wonder of God begins and Jesus speaks a Word. Jesus speaks into the death; in a moment, with a word, Jesus gives life. “Take away that stone,” he commands. “Lazarus, come out! Unbind him from the death that surrounds him; and let him come to me. For when I enter the world, when I speak a word, this stop nonsense ends and life – new life begins.” In a moment, all that light and breath and spirit fills the darkness; and the dead are raised; the blind see; the captive set free; and all that stop nonsense falls like bands of cloth to the floor.

And you know the most wonderful thing – we don’t have to literally be dead behind the stone to receive it. We don’t have to wait for some day when Jesus comes again and we live together in the resurrection. Jesus rolls the stone away; Jesus speaks a word of new life to be experienced, to be lived right now. For whatever your tomb, whatever your stone, whatever full stop you hear ringing in your ears. Jesus speaks, and the glory of God shines.

There was a commercial I saw awhile ago that told the stories of a number of the clients at a local rescue mission. Each person would hold up a cardboard sign, and on the front, their tomb: fixed on drugs reads one; run out of chances reads another; nowhere to go reads a third. Stone Rolled. Tomb Shut. Stop. You can almost hear Jesus whisper, “Roll the stone away.” And a smile of joy spreads across each face; they turn over those cardboard signs. Fixed on drugs…Fixed on Life. Run out of chances…Given one more. Has no-where to sleep…Home has found me. When Jesus speaks, new life abounds. Stones roll away, and full stops are transformed.

I wonder what it’s like to emerge from that tomb. To walk outside and feel the rush of fresh air; to be stepping on the linens that have kept you bound. Because most of the time I forget that the stone has rolled. The front of my cardboard sign would read, “Got a job, got a family, got a home. Doing just fine on my own.” I deceive myself into thinking, there are no stops in my world; there is no stone for Jesus to roll away. Until I take a moment, and look down at my feet and see myself bound by my inability to trust myself; and I look at my knees and feel the linens pulled tighter because I find my solace in food; and as I begin to lose my balance, I see the stone moving in front of me, and I realize all those little deaths I experience, the loneliness I feel in a crowded room, the children I desperately love but feel inadequate to raise, my tendency toward the critical and cranky. All those little deaths have me bound inside a tomb, I never even knew I was in; have surrounded me in full stops, that keep me blinded and in darkness.

Might Jesus have a word for me too? Might Jesus not only roll away the stones of Lazarus, and the dying, and the outwardly and obviously broken, but might he also speak to each one of us, to those of us dying in tombs we never knew we were in? Might Jesus have a word for us who wear the masks of “having it all together,” for those of us who think we can hide behind the linens that keep our hearts covered? Might Jesus have a word for you? You who are bound and broken, stuck in tombs with no light and breath and spirit. I think he might…

To each one of you Jesus speaks: “Come out. You are no longer bound by the death that surrounds you. The stone is gone and you are free. For when I enter the world, when I speak a word, this stop nonsense ends.” And new life…your new life begins.

Sarah Schaffner is mama to three crazy, beautiful children; serves with two crazy, faithful pastors; and is a child of one crazy, life-giving God.

Image by: Tim Daniels
Used with permission
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