Sunday 10th April 2011
Lent 5 - The Raising of Lazarus
Scripture - John 11:1-45
We come to faith by one of two routes. Either we are born into a God-fearing family and we eventually mature into our own pattern of belief, or something happens and we discover our connection to God later in life.
Either way, we will all at some time or other go through a period of questioning, seeking answers about what it means to have faith and just what some doctrines mean.
Today’s story is one that was very important in my own journey of faith, it was a text I first heard preached during my very first visit to Manchester, long before I found MCC, it was in fact only the third time I’d been in a church by choice.
One of those questions was nagging at me, just how could Jesus be both fully human and also fully divine? It seemed like such a contradiction, like some double Dutch that you were never intended to try and understand.
And then in the midst of the appallingly homophobic preacher’s sermon a realisation hit me; if at no other point in the gospel – this passage makes it amazingly clear how.
We know little about the idea of Jesus being a chap who had friends. We know he loved his disciples, his companions, but little else comes to us that he may have had a wider circle of friends; it’s not like we can check his Facebook page to check them out.
And yet clearly he had a deep connection to these people in the reading, to Martha and Lazarus.
A message goes out; to Jesus “Lord the one you love is sick”
It’s no statement of faint regard is it? He’s not ‘you remember my brother, you met him at our party a few weeks back” – it’s the one you love. Clearly this was a deep friendship. Their relationship demonstrated how God created us to be connected to people in friendship and to love one another. We are to forgive, be patient, encourage each other, build each other up and also to hold each other accountable.
Messages obviously took time to get from town to town in those days, you couldn’t have pinged him a quick message on his iPhone.
Jesus, fully God, knew that at any time he could bring his friend back from the jaws of death. He appears to be in no hurry to get to where his friend is sick. You might think that they weren’t really that close.
But eventually he goes, to discover that his friend has been buried for 4 days.
Even though he knew that he was going there to ‘wake him up’, he must have walked into a wave of emotion coming from that house. Lazarus was still living with his sisters, and apparently unmarried, so their family bonds must have been very close. Jesus walks into a house aching with loss, and surely must have been surprised by the faith that the women still showed in him
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
When times get tough, when things go wrong, those are the times when so often we can feel tempted to blame God for what’s happening. These are the times when we are tempted to turn away from Christ. And yet deep down inside we know these are the times we should be turning towards him and reaching out.
And yet we hear Martha’s statement, she says to him – I know you have the power to cure the sick in body and spirit, but my confidence in you is so strong that I know you can heal him even now.
It’s an astonishing affirmation of faith – clearly she identifies Jesus as God made flesh.
And then the next moment as they venture off towards the tomb of her brother, in the wash of emotion and loss, we hear how profoundly it affected Jesus. He weeps.
There, in the shortest verse in the bible, we hear how even though he knew he was going to use his divine powers to heal his friend, he still responds to the situation like any one of us would, he cries.
He empathises with all the pain of those around and he weeps. He's not some aloof distant deity, he a man crying at the situation. Most of us have lost friends and loved ones, we know what this moment felt like, and we can be sure, that so does Jesus.
He performs the most extraordinary of miracles, without a puff of smoke or a drum roll, that’s not the Jesus we encounter in the gospels, even though he is fully God, fully capable of awesome things, he seems to duck into the background, there’s no showmanship, no standing there pleased with himself; all eyes are on his friend Lazarus, and he seems happy for them to stay there.
We too ask things of God, and sometimes are tempted to get frustrated when our prayers don’t seem to be answered. Our example needs to be that of Martha and Mary, sisters who waited for Jesus to come to them to engage with their lives. We need to practice humility and patience when we don’t feel God moving as part of our situations.
For just as with Martha and Mary’s request, Jesus had already decided what he was going to do and when he was going to do it.
The God who lived among us as a man understands our every pain and our frustrations. No tragedy, no pain, no tears, no heartache can separate us from the love of God, for he also suffers our tragedy, our pain, cries our tears and experiences our heartache. We have to hold true and trust in the Lord who comes to be with us in our pain, who weeps over us, and gives himself so that may experience eternal life.
Jesus offers each of us new life, as a people we know only too well about the joy that new life can bring, the realisation of your true gender, the comfort of finding safety in a new country, the celebration of setting up home with your same-sex partner
Not so very long ago, our country’s laws did not uphold these values, but with patience and prayer eventually, to God’s timetable, these things came to pass. Let us offer up our prayers that the world continues to change as we stay faithful, knowing that Jesus waits with us.