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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Lent 5, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 10, 2011

John 11:1-45

The Resurrection and the Life’

John’s Gospel is a richly symbolic text. It is often said that although it includes no institution of the Eucharist, there is something sacramental about the text itself. It is worth tasting, chewing on, ingesting. It works on a number of levels. Jesus is present as Bread and Light and Water and a Door and a Way or Road and a Truth and a Lamb and a Good Shepherd and a True Vine and the Resurrection and the Life. It’s not just that he talks about these matters and tells parables, but that he is these matters, he embodies these realities. Some scholars say that, in John’s Gospel, Jesus himself is the parable.

The reading set for today, the last Sunday of Lent, is apposite. It relates the climax to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus receives news of his friend’s illness. Lazarus (and Martha and Mary) live in Bethany. There is reference to Lazarus sleeping which, we are told, means that he has died. John’s double meanings continue. Characters assume one thing, but Jesus, and readers, are aware of another level of meaning. Think of Nicodemus in chapter 3 trying to keep up with Jesus’ use of the word “Spirit” which also means Breath or Wind, and being born “from above” which also means being born “again”.

On a “basic” level this is a story about Jesus and a friend for whom Jesus weeps. A story about bringing a dead person back to life. We meet Martha and Mary who wait for a day at the end of time, a last day of reckoning and justice. We hear that it is not safe in Bethany for Jesus because some of the Jewish teachers/leaders there are plotting to have him killed. This miracle will have dire consequences. It will expose Jesus as a threat to religious and civil order. His suffering will also, according to the wider narrative, lead to his glory.

We could make a double list in relation to our reading for today, on one side showing the “basic” level of meaning, and on the other the “higher” level of meaning. Some we might not be able to discern straight away.

Sleep Death

Jesus weeps ?

Day of reckoning/justice ?

Teachers/Leaders Jesus the “Teacher”

Miracle of restored life ?

Suffering Glory

The “higher” level of meaning is given voice in verses 25 and 26. Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

We can add a little more to our double list ...

Day of reckoning/justice Jesus the “Resurrection and the Life”  

Death Life

The day of reckoning and justice is present in the person of Jesus who invites believers to live here and now, to enter into the life he shares with Abba God (vv. 41, 42). Death is real, believers will die, yet live, and so never die.

The double meanings reverberate. What sense do you make of it? The words, “even though they die” may well refer to Lazarus who has died and who will die again. “Will live” is ambiguous. It may also refer to Lazarus – he will live for a while longer now – but does that mean that other believers and friends of Jesus who die will also be resuscitated and live for a while longer? We will not ordinarily think this way.

“Will live” might be interpreted as meaning that people who believe in Jesus find life. This is eternal life, which may be said to include timelessness and timefulness – the emphasis is quality of life. Sharing the life of God here and now, and forever. In this sense, believing in Jesus is uplifting, and takes one beyond the faith of those who believe that Jesus can perform miracles. Faith is not just waiting for the next miracle, but also sees that a miracle is a sign of something else – of God’s very life, God’s being with and for the world God loves (3:16). We might discern that Jesus’ weeping is, then, also a sign of God’s compassion, God’s fierce empathy with creation and with all suffering creatures.

Jesus weeps God’s compassion  

Miracle of restored life God’s being with and for the world

Some scholars argue that the point John is making has to do with being raised to this “higher” level of meaning. A spiritual level. To read so that we understand that this passage is really about God’s compassion, God’s being with and for the world. It’s really about compassion as a light to challenge the darkness, truth as a challenge to lies and falsehood, caring as a challenge to abandonment, life as overcoming death.

Sleep Death  

Jesus weeps God’s compassion

Day of reckoning/justice Jesus the “Resurrection and the Life”

Teachers/Leaders Jesus the “Teacher”

Miracle of restored life God’s being with and for the world

Suffering Glory

Death Life

I think these scholars are right and wrong. They’re right to insist on compassion and divine life – and Jesus inviting believers into that very life. They’re wrong if they think, or give the impression, that God is no longer concerned for, present in, or present without reference to, those material/physical/earthly realities we’ve listed on the left-hand side: Sleep (and the countless “little deaths”, disorientations, and descents of daily life); Weeping on behalf of friends; Longing for justice; the Jewish tradition and people, institutional religion (including Church governance and order); Miracles of restored life; Suffering love; Death itself – the dying of brothers and sisters we both know and do not know about.

In other words, understanding those realities we’ve listed on the right-hand side ought to send us back to the left-hand side with renewed passion and patience. The double list turns on Death. Which means that, maybe, we don’t understand much at all. Maybe we are not smarter than Nicodemus (who is born again as a disciple of Jesus in chapter 18), Martha (who trusts that the kindom will come, and justice be done on earth) or Mary (who anoints Jesus with perfume and tears in the following chapter). We don’t need to be smarter than them in order to love like them.

On this last Sunday of Lent, what new passion or patience might God be inspiring in you for those “basic” realities listed on the left-hand side?

In the name of God – Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver … Amen.