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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 6, 2014

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, 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. God be with you ...

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.

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 and within creation, and with all suffering creatures (Jesus’ grief is expressed in animal terms of a “snorting horse”).

“The power of Resurrection is not a divine ‘power in itself’, but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is life, Love creates Life. It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus” (Alexander Schmemann, 1961).

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 see 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.