Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead

On Passion Sunday 2020 Rev Deborah gave this sermon. It was recorded in the vicarage garden, and you may have seen the video already. Here is the text so you can ponder it again.

Ezekiel 37.1–14

John 11.1–45

When did you last say, ‘if only …’?

‘If only …. she had worked harder and not failed the exam.’

‘If only … a different president had been elected.’

‘If only …. we hadn’t gone on holiday that particularly week.’

And whatever it is, you have that sinking feeling of wishing that you could turn back the clock.

Many of us, in the light of the current coronavirus pandemic must be thinking ‘if only…’

‘If only …. we hadn’t gone on that cruise.’

‘If only ….the government had done this or that.’

‘If only …. we had realised how bad this would get.’

‘If only …. we had followed the advice to stay at home.’

Each of us will have had an ‘if only ….’ at some point in our lives for differing reasons. Most of us will agree with the saying ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing!’

All of this and more is in our gospel reading today.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the family from Bethany are close friends of Jesus. Martha and Mary also appear in Luke’s gospel when Martha is rushing around, and Mary is sat at Jesus feet. In Holy Week we will hear about a dinner which Martha serves, Lazarus is alive and well and at the table with Jesus. It is here where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume in an act of extravagant love, which Jesus identifies as preparation for his burial. 

We hear how Lazarus gets ill, so ill in fact, that he dies. The sisters send a message to Jesus, but he does not immediately come when they call. As Jesus nears the village of Bethany as Martha comes out to greet Jesus and immediately laments his delay in coming because she knows that he could have saved her brother’s life. 

‘‘If only …. you you’d been here, then my brother would not have died’.’.

Their conversation culminates in one of Jesus’ most supremely comforting “I am” statements, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’

Resurrection isn’t just a doctrine. It isn’t just a future fact. It is a person, Jesus, standing in front of Martha. He is encouraging her to make a big jump of trust and faith. He is challenging her to exchange ‘if only’ to . ‘if Jesus’.

If Jesus is who she believes in ….’

If Jesus is the Messiah, the one who was promised by the prophets, the one who was to come into the world …

If Jesus is God’s only Son …

If Jesus is the resurrection in person, life come to life, then ….

Jesus will come into the mess and the grief, into the pain, sorrow and death with good news, with hope and with new possibilities.

In the next scene Martha has returned to the house to fetch her sister, who goes out quickly and meets Jesus. Mary falls at his feet and laments saying, ‘if only’ you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ You can hear the sub-text ‘where the heck have you been.’

In the final scene the sisters lead Jesus to the tomb and, after voicing sensible concerns, which reveal that they can’t conceive of what is about to happen, they remove the stone, and Jesus calls Lazarus, and Lazarus comes out.

Jesus comes into the mess and the grief, into the pain, sorrow and death with good news, with hope and with new possibilities.

Our journey through Holy Week is one of lament, and it will ultimately be a story of resurrection and life. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus comes into the mess and the grief, in our world,  into the pain, sorrow and death with good news, with hope and with new possibilities.

Today we are in the worse crisis since World War 2. Every time you switch the TV on there are statistics about the number with COVID 19, the number of deaths, the difficulties in getting PPE and the impact on the economy. There lockdown, anxiety, stress pain and death.

Jesus comes into the mess and the grief, into the pain, sorrow and death with good news, with hope and with new possibilities.

Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

Earlier in the week my aunt from Canada sent me this poem by Brother Richard. It is one our church Facebook page and on my blog. It is called Lockdown by Brother Richard:

Yes, there is fear.
Yes, there is isolation.
Yes, there is panic buying.
Yes, there is sickness.
Yes, there is even death.

But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They said that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
Across the empty squares,
Keeping their windows open
So that those who are alone
May hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
Is busy spreading fliers with her number
Through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Temples
Are preparing to welcome
And shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To love.

So we pray and we remember that
Yes, there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes, there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes, there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes, there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes, there is death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
To touch across the empty square
Sing!

Jesus comes into the mess and the grief, into the pain, sorrow and death with good news, with hope and with new possibilities. Amen


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