Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lent 5: The Raising of Lazarus

People say Jesus was a spiritual leader, some kind of guru, a teacher of inner peace. And he was. He did go off on his own to pray, he did enjoy the deepest possible relationship with his divine Father, and he tried to share this knowledge in his teachings and his actions and in the offering of bread and wine. But the Christian life is not ultimately about inner peace. Inner peace may come from the Christian life, it may help us in the Christian life, but that's not what Christianity is finally all about. Because if Jesus was just a guru, then all we have left after the Crucifixion is - a dead guru.
People say Jesus was a politician, a man who inspired a great movement of social justice, who overturned the distinctions between rich and poor, Jew and Greek, man and woman, who dined with prostitutes and sinners. Peter and Judas definitely wanted him to be a political leader. And he was. But the Christian life is not ultimately about politics. We may make political decisions based on our faith, and political movements may help us in the Christian cause. But politics is not what the Christian faith is finally all about. Because if Jesus was just a politician, then all we have left after the Crucifixion is - a dead politician.
Some people say Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher of the Law, a new Moses to give us the rules to lead our life by in his words and appeals to the Scriptures. And he was, but in a new and different way: we believe that the Word was made flesh, not book, and lived among us. Jesus is our Law, but our living Law, who said "take this, eat this, do this in remembrance of me:" not "read this," "believe this" in remembrance of me. Instead of stone tablets, he gave us his body and his blood. Laws may come from our Christian knowledge amd love of Jesus and his Father, they may help us to serve him better, but law is not finally what Christianity is all about. Because if Jesus was just a rabbi, then all we have left after the Crucifixion is a dead rabbi.
Christianity is about Resurrection. "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." So says St Paul (1 Corinthians 5.13). If there's no resurrection, there's no Christianity. There's no point in any of this.
The raising of Lazarus, that we hear about today, is a sign of that resurrection, and a powerful sign: in John's account, it is this sign more than any other that gets Jesus crucified. It's powerful to Lazarus, too, of course, though not just to him: note that Jesus says that it is because of the faith of his sisters, Mary and Martha, that he is raised, not because of his own faith. Jesus told the disciples that they would raise the dead, and here we see that our faith can raise one other, can raise even those who have died already. This Christianity isn't about "me and my God:" we travel together, we lift each other up with our prayers. Lazarus is a powerful sign, not just to the faithful, but to the whole Church, and to those outside the Church, too. If the whole world is to be resurrected, it must be through the prayers of the Church.
But the raising of Lazarus, however powerful it may be, is still just a sign. It does not reveal the fulness of what is to come. Lazarus is raised, but eventually he will die again. He's just had another chance at this life.
The Resurrection that Jesus showed us and promises us is different. We can't imagine how different, any more than a caterpillar can imagine being a butterfly, or a foetus a grown adult, or a seed a flower. But the potential, the promise, is there, no matter how poorly we can imagine it, no matter how dark the glass we look through.
But however dim our vision, we are not left without light. Jesus has sent the Spirit on the Church to open our eyes and give us glimpses of the glory that awaits us. Christianity is all about the Resurrection, but in practical, day-to-day terms, that only means something if the promise of the Resurrection makes some difference in our lives now, not just as a dream for the future. And the Christian faith is precisely a way of deepening our imagination, opening the eyes of the heart to the vision of Resurrected life: a way we walk together, from earth to heaven as though from the font to the altar. And that's why this Gospel passage was chosen in the early Church as the last of three for the instruction of new Christians.
We started at the font, two weeks ago, repenting with the Samaritan woman and being purified by Jesus, the water of life, just as we did at our Baptism. If the second reading had not been displaced by Mothering Sunday, we would then have moved into the nave with the man born blind, and had our sight restored like him, illuminated by the gift of the Spirit, moving closer to the altar and the presence of Jesus to see him more clearly: the gift we received in Confirmation. And now, with Lazarus, we move closer still to the resurrection as we come to the perfecting work of the Eucharist.
Today, we will offer God bread and wine and he will give it back transfigured and perfected as the body and blood of Christ. We will give up, sacrifice to God, something of our earthly sustenance that feeds our bellies, and he will give us heavenly food to feed our souls. Resurrected food, if you like. We give little, and we receive in plenty. We give what to God is nothing, and we receive everything, eternal life.
If that is what we get back when we give bread and wine, imagine what you will get back if what you offer at this altar today is yourself. And offer yourself not just for yourself, but for others too. Imagine what will happen if you come to this altar today truly saying in your heart, "crucify me."
That, brothers and sisters, is what Christianity is about.

4 comments:

  1. According to the Bible, how many Old Testament prophets raised people from the dead? Answer: Two. Elijah and Elisha.

    That's it. And they only did it three times. So the act of raising someone from the dead would have been seen as a very, very big deal. It was not like healing someone of a disease or casting out demons. Lots of people, it seems, could do those miracles. Nope, raising someone from the dead was the big kahuna of all miracles!

    In the Gospel of John chapter 11, we are told that Lazarus had been dead for four days. His body was decomposing to the point that he stunk. Lazarus death and burial were very public events. His tomb was a known location. Many Jews had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and some of them were wondering why the great miracle worker, Jesus, had not come and healed his friend Lazarus; essentially blaming Jesus for letting Lazarus die.

    Let's step back and look at the facts asserted in this passage: Only two OT prophets had raised people from the dead, and these two prophets were considered probably the two greatest Jewish prophets of all time: Elijah and Elisha. If this story is true, the supernatural powers of Jesus were on par with the supernatural powers of the greatest Jewish prophets of all time! If this event really did occur, it should have shocked the Jewish people to their very core---a new Elijah was among them! This event must have been the most shocking event to have occurred in the lives of every living Jewish man and woman on the planet. The news of this event would have spread to every Jewish community across the globe.

    And yet...Paul, a devout and highly educated Jew, says not one word about it. Not one. Not in his epistles; not in the Book of Acts. Think about that. What would be the most powerful sign to the Jews living in Asia Minor and Greece---the very people to whom Paul was preaching and attempting to convert---to support the claim that Jesus of Nazareth himself had been raised from the dead? Answer: The very public, very well documented raising from the dead of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus!

    But nope. No mention of this great miracle by Paul. (A review of Paul's epistles indicates that Paul seems to have known very little if anything about the historical Jesus. Read here.)

    And there is one more very, very odd thing about the Raising-of-Lazarus-from-the-Dead Miracle: the author of the Gospel of John, the very last gospel to be written, is the only gospel author to mention this amazing miracle! The authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke say NOTHING about the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Nothing.

    To continue reading:
    http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2016/01/the-story-of-lazarus-is-blatant.html

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  2. Thank you, Gary. You might find Jeffrey John's Book, "The Meaning in the Miracles," interesting. He is far from a fundamentalist! He writes:
    "It is important not to suppose that Christian faith in the resurrection depends on believing the literal and detailed historical truth of these miracle stories ... the Gospel genre constantly mixes the historical with the interpretative and the symbolic, and it is impossible to separate them out." You could say that the old approach of modernists and rationalists like von Harnack, desperate to disenchant us and take a 'scientific' approach to the 'historical Jesus' are effectively trying to translate poetry into binary code. The meaning is lost. In this, the fundamentalist and the scientific rationalist fall into the same trap: they are equally bound up in the narrow and restrictive worldview of western European Enlightenment modernity, which postmodernism has shown is simply not up for the task of interpreting the full range of human experience.
    Whatever the 'facts' (and the manuscript evidence is too thin, I think, to support your conclusion absolutely), the psychological and spiritual truth remains: that the false selves of the ego must be crucified for the true, inner self of self-giving love to emerge: which transcendent love many of us call, for lack of a better word, God, and find most conclusively and intimately revealed in Christ.

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    Replies
    1. You cannot find intimacy with someone who is dead, my friend, especially someone who has been dead for 2,000 years. Your belief is a delusion.

      I would encourage you to abandon your ancient superstition and investigate Secular Humanism.

      Peace and happiness to you!

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  3. As an ex-atheist and secular humanist who eventually found both of those wanting, I have no desire to return to either! I fought hard against the 'ancient superstition' in those days. Then I discovered, after a brief spell of Buddhism, that Christianity was not all the grim Protestantism I had been led to believe. You have to be very convinced indeed to believe that this material realm is all there is: convinced enough to stand against the witness and philosophy of generations of far better and wiser men and women than I. I don't think it's good enough to dismiss the collective intellectual output of all world religions, let alone Christianity itself, quite so sweepingly. Might there not just be something in it? Or are Nagarjuna, Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Aquinas, Rumi, Avicenna, and more recently people like Rowan Williams (to name just a few) just fools?

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