Sunday, 6 April 2014
Lent 5: The Raising of Lazarus
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.
Posted by Tom Plant