The 5th Sunday In Lent

John 11:1-45
11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN

“There is nothing
no, nothing innocent or good
that dies and is forgotten;
let us hold to that faith or none.
An infant, a prattling child, dying in the cradle,
will live again in the better thoughts of those that loved it,
and play its part through them
in the redeeming actions of the world,
though its body be burnt to ashes or drowned in the deep sea.”

Charles Dickens

Today’s Gospel could hardly speak more directly to our current experience.

Over these past weeks we have heard St. John progressively ramping up the signs, revealing just who Jesus is (each another “I am saying” John 4:26, 9:5 11:25). With a repeating pattern, each time, there are those who should but don’t get it (a prominent religious leader, a teacher of Israel; John 3:1,10, Jesus’ own male Jewish disciples; 4:27,31-34,  the religious authorities; 9:2, 39-41 & 11:45,57 & 12:9-11). And those least expect to, but who become catalysts of conversion, instruments of others believing, (a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation; 4:39-42, a man with a deserved(? ) physical handicap, whose competence consequently gets infantilized, & today, penultimately, even the dead! 11:45,57).

Unfortunately today’s reading ends prematurely. We need to hear more… When the great crowd learned that Jesus was in Bethany, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,  since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” (12:9-11)

Rather than see, as in last Sunday’s gospel, rather than embracing the Life that Jesus makes possible, we prefer instead to remain blind, we prefer death, we prefer to perpetuate old death dealing habits & structures.
A global health consultant Alannah Shaikh says that reason diseases like COVID-19 are hitting us now is because we are greedily consuming the planet encroaching upon the diminishing reserves of wildlife. And that now is our opportunity to change this destructive pattern. (Elsewise the other even more devastating impending species & planet wide eliminating death climate crisis will ensue!)

“I have absolute faith that this illness is a wake up call. ” a parishioner recently wrote to me. And isn’t that precisely what Lent is supposed to be. A wake up call. An opportunity to change. Our Lent began Ash Wednesday with those sobering words “Remember you are dust & to dust you shall return.” Remembering & recognizing our individual & common mortality. Remarkable as little as but 33 days ago we couldn’t’ve imagined how such ancient words could be so simultaneously poignant, prophetic & relevant. Death has called us to wake up! The literally overwhelming number of dead we’ve recently witnessed challenge us to change or also die.

Among the many things COVID-19 has taught us is just how integrally we are all connected. No longer just “6 degrees of separation”. We all breathe the same air. And what is in my lungs has been in the lungs of many others, & on, & on recycled…. As this virus is so clearly exposing. We are intimately related. We will never be the same. Our world has dramatically shifted & rapidly, daily. We now behave differently. We have a whole new vocabulary of words we’ve adopted with immediacy.

In a seemingly entirely unrelated Lazarus story, the only other time Lazarus gets mentioned in the Bible, (Luke 16) the person of Lazarus is also a wake up call. God’s opportunity.  Sitting right there in front of us so that we have to trip over him. Will we choose the consistent witness of the scriptures; that comfort & bliss in this life & the next have everything to do with connectedness, how we live, how we treat each other. And this story comes to the same conclusion. “If they do not listen to the witness of the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

It was not many Sunday’s ago (16/02/20) we heard: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.  -Deuteronomy 30:15-20. We heard this before we had become fully aware of the consequences of the pandemic we currently find ourselves in.

The God who is so intimately near to us that He weeps & is deeply disturbed by our death (11:35 ,38) longs that we might choose the Life giving opportunities before us. But our human propensity is for death. We’d rather be greedy & selfish, we indulge ourselves while our sisters & brothers in the human community perish ignored. We choose to ignore the cries of refugees fleeing death we have created. We choose to go on luxury cruises while people starve. Indeed we believe that we have earned & deserve such privileges. We choose to unbridledly consume regardless of others, although we know the planet cannot sustain it. Next generations be damned!

Ultimately, in only a few more weeks time, we will celebrate the Paschal Mystery. We will celebrate that God who is so intimately near to us dies with us!  And – “If they do not listen to the witness of the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The question remains, will we be convinced?

Another parishioner has commented that COVID-19 has imposed the disciplines of Lent upon us. Social distancing – go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” Fasting -Making do with the limited resources at hand.  Almsgiving -being attentive to those in need around us. And unsurprisingly  from the same chapter, a life giving recipe… “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words choose life!

Now is not the time for revolution says one current presidential candidate.  But now is the time for revolution. Isn’t that what Lent is about? About repentance. About a revolution, a 180 degree about face. In the Roman Rite the alternative declaration for the imposition of ashes is “Turn away from sin & believe in the Gospel”. God invites us to turn & believe. To turn from that which perpetuates death & choose life.
The media reports that because of the COVID-19 pandemic the usual clouds of pollution in the air over major industrial cities has cleared. People can breathe again. Death has driven us to life. Fish & other animals have returned to waters after human traffic subsided. Life is resilient!

The Resurrection is a person! Jesus proclaims “I am the Resurrection & the Life.” There is lots we don’t know about the life after this life, but what we do know is this that Life is relationship. Life is about us belonging together. Life is for all of us, & in so far as we hoard, consume, ignore the other, we do so at our own peril. When we choose death we ought not be surprised when death invariably erupts about us.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Finally, in conclusion, another parishioner recently offered this, “The question we need to ask in any given moment, is not ‘How is this situation going to affect my life?‘,  But rather ‘How am I, as an expression of Life, going to affect this situation?‘ -(Charles Banting)

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN

the Reverend Brian Heinrich