5th Sunday Lent
2 April 2017
Rev Les Ruhrmund
The readings on this 5th Sunday of Lent, with only two weeks to go to Easter, revolve around life and death; literally, figuratively and spiritually.
In the 1st reading the prophet Ezekiel has a vision in which the dry bones of the dead are raised from their graves and brought to new life through the spirit of God. It’s a vision of a new beginning for Israel.
In the 2nd reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans we are reminded that we are born into this world in the flesh and through Baptism we are reborn in the Spirit. He says that ‘If Christ is in you, although our bodies are dead because of sin, our spirits are alive because of righteousness.’ Though we exist in the flesh, we live in the Spirit. It is in the weakness of our bodies that we ultimately find our strength in the Spirit.
In the gospel John tells us that through the death of Lazarus, the Son of God is glorified. Just as the blindness of the man in last week’s gospel served to show Jesus as the light, so the death of Lazarus will serve to show Jesus as the life.
While this reading from John’s gospel at first glance tells a powerful and moving story about an amazing event in Jesus’ life, typical of John’s writing, the words often have two meanings; one which appears obvious and true, and the other that lies beneath the surface and is equally true.
As an example, at the beginning of the reading, after Jesus is told that his much loved friend Lazarus is ill he says: ‘This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
The obvious understanding is that the raising of Lazarus will be a visible sign of his divinity and his power over death and bring his disciples to a deeper faith and understanding of who he is.
But there’s more to it than that.
Throughout John’s gospel Jesus talks often about his glory in connection with the cross. Jesus regarded the cross both as his supreme glory and as the way to glory. So when he said that the cure of Lazarus would glorify him, he was also saying that to go to Bethany and bring Lazarus back to life would lead to his own death on the cross. As indeed it did. In the verses immediately following the raising of Lazarus, we’re told that the Jewish authorities on hearing about the dramatic events in Bethany, from that day onwards planned to kill him.
A paradox: Lazarus’s return to life leads to Jesus‘s death; and the death of Jesus gives life to the world.
Jesus said to Martha and he says to us; ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’
Well, do we really believe this?
Up until the moment that Lazarus walks out of the tomb, none of the people present really believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; not Martha, Mary, the disciples nor the Jewish mourners.
They confessed their belief that he was a miracle worker and the long awaited Messiah sent by God but until that moment they didn’t understand that he is God.
Do we believe that? Do we believe that he calls us out of the tombs that we have created for ourselves and that he offers us new life? Do we believe that he can change us and restore us?
We don’t have to be dead physically to be in need of being raised up. We can be dead in the midst of life; spiritually dead, emotionally dead, vocationally dead, psychologically dead, dead to the endless possibilities of life.
We know our lives should be more joyful; more peaceful. We know we should be more loving, kind, forgiving and generous. But instead too often we are anxious, selfish, self-centred and cold hearted. We wrap our conscience in burial bandages and are dead to the cry of the poor, the afflicted, the persecuted, the homeless, the lonely and the lost.
Lazarus is given to us on this 5th Sunday of Lent to help us think about the tombs in which we lie hidden and the life to which we are called. The spirit of darkness, seduces most of us into believing that we can create our own happiness, that we know what is best for us and that we cannot change. We are kept bound by things about ourselves that we are afraid to share and that we allow to sway our thinking and our actions.
It might be a secret we can’t tell, a sin we’re unable to confess, a memory we can’t bury or a desire that challenges our Christian values.
This is the part of us that is buried in the tomb. We carefully guard and defend the entrance and we’re ashamed and afraid that if anyone rolls away the stone they’ll see the mess inside.
This Sunday Jesus stands at the entrance of our tombs and calls us out of them. We’re asked to face the behaviours and thoughts that keeps us entombed, to move away from shame, embrace repentance, recognise the price to be paid to be true to what’s best in ourselves. We’re invited to experience Christ’s healing and forgiveness.
This journey is not easy, but it’s what Lent is all about; the journey from the tomb, through penitence, to the new life of Easter.
In the miracle of the Eucharist that we’ve come together to celebrate, may we see the Lord, the resurrection and the life, standing at the entrance to our tombs calling us by name; “Come, come out !’
To which we might respond asking for our own miracle:
Lord, you are the resurrection and the life.
Help me to want to be healed.