Sunday, March 30, 2008

CSI Thomas

Second Sunday of Easter – Year A
Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 118:19-24; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Sunday, March 30, 2008 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

One of my favorite television shows is CSI – the original one set in Las Vegas, not the spin-offs set in New York or Miami. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, it is about the CSIs, or Crime Scene Investigators, who investigate crimes, usually murders, to obtain the clues that will be needed to identify, apprehend, and ultimately convict, the perpetrator. In a lot of the cases, before the perpetrator can even be identified, the CSIs must use the clues gathered to first identify the victim. In almost every episode, there is some sort of twist. Things are not quite what they appear. Either the CSIs see something and take it at face value, sometimes providing false leads or erroneous assumption, or one of the CSIs may get emotionally wrapped up in the case, becoming blinded to what is being seen. In all such incidents, Gil Grissom, the CSI supervisor, invariably cautions, “trust the evidence.” In Grissom’s eyes, only the physical evidence, that which can be seen, touched, smelled, or heard, can be trusted. All else is extraneous. Anything else could potentially get in the way of the investigation, cloud judgment, and ultimately lead to erroneous conclusions, thereby jeopardizing the case. You’ve got to look at the evidence to get to the truth.

I think Thomas, as portrayed in today’s Gospel lesson, would have made a pretty good CSI. When the other disciples tell him, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas responds, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Now, we generally come down pretty hard on Thomas because of this statement. We often attach the adjective “doubting” to him, so that he has become known as “Doubting Thomas,” as if that is his given name. And the appellation is not viewed positively. When we talk about poor old “Doubting Thomas,” there is almost a tone of condemnation. In fact, calling someone a “Doubting Thomas” has even become a sort of put-down or accusation in contemporary parlance. I think it’s about time we redeem poor Thomas and restore his honor as an ever-faithful disciple.

When you think about it, Thomas was just exercising due diligence. Yes, he heard his friends proclaim that they had seen the risen Lord. And when Christ appeared to him directly, he could see that there were wounds in his hands and side. But that really didn’t prove anything, at least, not with absolute certainty. After all, before he died, Jesus told his disciples to beware of false messiahs. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells them, “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert” (Mk 13:22-23, Mt 24:24). Luke has Jesus putting his warning a little differently: “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in My name and say, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them” (Lk 21:8). How did Thomas know that the person appearing before him, even though he had what appeared to be the requisite marks of the crucifixion, was not just such an imposter? He needed to be sure before he could embrace and swear allegiance to this person.

That shouldn’t be too hard for us to understand. After all, we do live in a society that has been heavily influenced by the Enlightenment – by the advent of scientific method. In virtually anyone else, we would consider such skepticism as healthy, even necessary. Many professionals rely on skepticism, discovering the truth, and having proof, in the course of their work – scientists, police, attorneys, journalists, educators, just to name a few. So why do we condemn poor old Thomas for having a trait that many of us exercise on a regular basis, even rely upon?

I think part of it is that we tend to compare Thomas with his peers – with the other disciples. After all, they believed in the resurrected Lord, didn’t they? Why should Thomas have been so quick not to believe? Well, the historical record probably needs to be set straight on that perception, as well. In the Markan and Lukan accounts of the resurrection, the disciples did not believe that Christ has been resurrected when Mary Magdalene first told them. They had to see and experience Christ for themselves before they would believe. And even in today’s Gospel lesson, the implication is that the disciples were a bit apprehensive. As John tells us, Jesus appeared to the disciples (sans Thomas) and spoke to them. They did not seem to realize who he was, so Jesus showed them his hands and his side. “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” What is not specifically stated but strongly implied, is that the other disciples needed proof before they were willing to accept that the person standing before them was indeed their Lord. Yet, we don’t question their faith. Why question Thomas’?

Now in all fairness, it is our translation of Scripture that is at fault. What we translate in verse 27 as “do not doubt but believe” uses the Greek words apistos and pistos. We translate apistos as “doubt” and pistos as “believe.” But in actuality, apistos is the opposite of belief, which is not necessarily doubt. The verse in question should actually be translated as “do not be unbelieving (apistos) but believing (pistos)” (O’Day, 850). Now it may be splitting hairs on the meaning. But I am always reminded of The Very Rev. Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, who frequently quotes a nameless English monk who once said “the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty.” Certainty is rigid, unyielding. Faith, on the other hand, is flexible, open to reinterpretation as new evidence is revealed. Thomas was not unyielding in his approach. He was open to a change in perspective. He just needed something to go on. He needed a little more information.

In actuality, when Thomas makes the statement “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” he is actually saying to the other disciples “To believe as you believe, I need to have the same experience of the risen Jesus you had. I need to have the Spirit breathed into me. I need to see what you saw.” (Wesley, 23). “So Thomas was not asking for anything that was not a basis for the other disciples’ claims” of seeing or belief in the risen Lord (Wesley, 24). And, in fact, as the Gospel story progresses, we find that Thomas does indeed experience and see what the disciples experienced and saw. The following week, Jesus returns, specifically to see Thomas. Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Presumably, Thomas does as he said he would do, and as Jesus asked. Presumably he touched the nail marks on his hands and the wound in his side.

In his words, in offering himself to Thomas, Jesus is not attempting to shame Thomas as is so often thought, but rather to give him what he needs for faith. Just as the other disciples needed to see Jesus for themselves to believe, so too, Thomas needed some proof. He was open to the possibilities, but just needed a little more to go on. That is not to be condemned but admired, because Thomas allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in understanding. Jesus allowed himself to be vulnerable to being touched. Both Thomas and Jesus gave of themselves in this tender moment.

Upon accepting Jesus’ tender offer of breath and touch, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God” is the most powerful and complete in the Fourth Gospel, and affirms what Jesus had previously said: “If you know me, you will know my Father also” (Jn 14:7), as well as affirms the central truth of the Gospel, as stated in it’s prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). In that moment, “Thomas sees God fully revealed in Jesus” (O’Day, 850). But it is important to note that “It is not touching Jesus that leads Thomas to this confession of faith, but Jesus’ gracious offer of himself” (O’Day, 850). Thomas did not believe in the resurrected Christ because he saw him and touched him. He believed because Jesus, the resurrected One, offered himself to Thomas – offered to help him believe, offered to give him new life through his death and resurrection; and offered to be present to him following the resurrection.

The important thing is not whether Thomas initially believed in the resurrected Lord or not. The important thing is not on what grounds Thomas came to his belief – be it through the word of others, seeing Jesus, or feeling his wounds. The most important thing is that he came to belief. The end result is that he ultimately had faith. This tells us that “It is not physical sight and signs that are decisive for faith, but the truth they reveal” (O’Day, 852). The truth that is revealed through the resurrection is Jesus’ identity and relationship with God. The truth that is revealed is that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. He lived among us. He died for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. He was resurrected to give us new and eternal life. It was this truth, this promise, that Jesus offered to Thomas.

Christ makes the same offer to us. He offered his life for ours. He offers us salvation and new life, eternal life, through his death and resurrection. He offers to be present with us, if we would only accept. To this end, what follows next in the Gospel lesson is not so much spoken to Thomas as it is spoken to us. After Thomas makes his confession of belief, Jesus says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus’ final statement “is John’s way of praising those who have different (distant) experiences of the risen Christ and yet still have faith beyond the time of seeing Jesus in any literal fashion” (Wesley, 24). Jesus’ words reach across time to speak directly to us, to encourage us, to praise us for our willingness to accept him on faith without benefit of a physical sighting, without benefit of physically touching him. His statement points to Jesus’ continued presence and care for his flock following the resurrection, and giving us the Holy Spirit to sustain is in the mission we are charged with.

This is not a story of judgment against Thomas or anyone who is not quick to believe. It is not a reprimand. Rather, it is a story of hope and promise. It is a message to us that Christ is waiting to offer himself to us. Some, like Mary Magdalene, will accept that offer on pure faith, based only on a word. Others, like Thomas, and like the other disciples, will require a little more evidence before being willing to make a final decision on the matter. Regardless of where we are, Jesus will to be patient with us. He is willing to be vulnerable and open to us “so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may [all] have life in his name.” Like Thomas, we just need to trust the evidence.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Allen, O. Wesley, Jr., et al. New Proclamation: Year A, 2008, Easter to Christ the King. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

Read more!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flesh-to-Flesh Connection

Great Vigil of Easter – Year A
Vigil = Exodus 14:10-15:1; Isaiah 55:1-11; Ezekiel 37:1-14
Eucharist = Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Saturday, March 22, 2008 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

[Following is the sermon I wrote for the Great Vigil, although I actually preached it without notes.]

About a week and a half ago, my friend Moki was in town for a visit. One afternoon, we decided to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. After spending a couple hours at LACMA, we decided to walk to The Grove to do a little shopping and have some dinner. As we walked down Wilshire Boulevard, a man came walking up behind us. I was unaware of his presence until he spoke, commenting on how the weather was finally turning warm, a nice change from previous weeks. I looked back over my left shoulder to see who spoke. I saw that he was rather disheveled with rather dirty, unkempt clothes and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Despite his appearance, he had a pleasant voice and a kind, smiling face. My initial reaction was that he was probably homeless and wanted something from us.

Not wanting to be rude, even if he was a homeless person, I replied that the weather was very nice and a welcome change. Moki and I continued walking and the man came up beside me. I just knew that at any moment, he would ask us for money. I was surprised when he said, “you know, it’s not that governor’s fault. All those politicians do it. He just got caught.” This was the day after former New York governor Elliot Spitzer admitted to involvement in a prostitution ring. The homeless man was obviously referring to the Spitzer case. I don’t really remember how I responded, but I made some comment of agreement. I was a little uncomfortable because I really didn’t know what to say, and kept wondering what he really wanted. The man walked silently beside us for a few more yards, and then as quickly as he appeared, he pulled over to the edge of the sidewalk, stopped, and wished us a good day as Moki and I continued on our way. I returned the sentiment and we continued on down Wilshire.

Through the rest of the day and into the next, I periodically thought of our encounter with this gentle, well-informed, companion. Some how, I found it interesting that he was aware of the current news and even more so that he wanted to talk about it. I was also a little intrigued that he did not ask for money or any type of assistance. And it finally occurred to me. We humans are social creatures. We long to connect with others. All this man wanted to do was connect with someone, with another human being. And what better way to do that than to strike up a conversation about such ordinary things as the weather and current news stories?

As I pondered this experience, this man’s attempt to connect with someone other than himself, to be in some sort of relationship with another person, I saw a great metaphor for our relationship with God. We are made in the image and likeness of God. It stands to reason that God, too, longs to connect with us. That’s what salvation history has been all about – God's longing to connect with us. Throughout salvation history, a portion of which we heard read during the Vigil, God has been attempting to connect with his people – the people he made in his image and likeness. The trick is, how can the divine, the Almighty, connect with mere mortals? He tried speaking through a burning bush. To weird. Too scary. He tried speaking through other people, such as prophets. Again, too scary, but in a different way. And besides, there was not the direct connection. We just thought those prophets were a little off their rocker.

God needed a way to directly connect with humanity, face to face, flesh to flesh. So God sent his Son to become human as we are, so that through that humanity, the divine might know what it means to be human; so that through his Son, the human and the divine might be united, in one person; and so that that one person, fully divine, yet fully human, might be connected with the rest of humanity. God made flesh, providing the flesh to flesh connection that we humans require to be in relationship. In this act of incarnation, God was finally able to physically touch, and be touched by, humanity.

But how can one man, even one who is fully human and fully divine, touch more than a handful of people? In his own time, he could only touch a limited number of the people who lived on Earth. And with a limited human lifespan, he would only be able to touch a small fraction of the people who would ever live. God’s connection through this one man would be fleeting at best, just as man on Wilshire’s connection with me was momentary and fleeting. No, this experiment of the incarnation, of God made flesh, would still not be enough to reach all the people who might live on this planet. Something more was needed if God was going to be able to connect with all of humanity. Something far more radical than even God incarnate was needed if there was to be an on-going, eternal connection between God and his beloved children – the children he so longed to be in relationship with.

For this to happen, Jesus, God made flesh, would need to be able to live forever. He would need to live for all eternity so that all humans who came into being might have the opportunity to know him and be touched by him, to be in relationship with him. But alas, Jesus was human. Humans do not live forever. For this to happen, Jesus would need to die and be resurrected into new life, a life that would be eternal. That’s what the last couple of days have been about. That’s what this night is all about – Jesus being resurrected to new and eternal life, so that through his eternal life, we might connect with him, know him.

We share in that eternal life, in that connection to God through Jesus Christ, through the sacrament of baptism. In baptism, we share in Christ’s death. In baptism, we share in his resurrection, being reborn to new and eternal life, cleansed of sin.

Tonight, we welcome into the family of faith, into full relationship with Jesus Christ, into full relationship with God, three new members. Mira, Mattea, and Johnny come on this most holy of nights, offering themselves to God. In the waters of baptism, they will be washed, they will be made new, they will be assured of eternal life with their Savior. God has longed to be connected with them, just as he longs to be connected with all of us. And tonight, that longing will be fulfilled.

But baptism is not just a personal act of devotion, a private, feel-good, moment in which we are connected with Christ and with God. Baptism carries with it an awesome responsibility. In baptism, not only are we connected to Christ, but we become the Body of Christ, living in this world, doing his work. Our lives are no longer our own. They belong to him, who is the head of the Body, guiding us, directing us, to continue the work he began 2,000 years ago. In this way, Christ does indeed continue to live in this world, in this time. In this way, Christ continues to be connected to humanity.

Through baptism, we are not only connected to God and to Christ. We are also connected with one another. We are connected with all of humanity, not just those in the church. Not just those who profess faith in Christ. But with all humanity. Just as Christ came into the world to minister to all, so we, as his Body, are called to minister to all, and to be a witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ – the power that was realized this day, through his resurrection.

We all long for connection with our fellow human beings. Just as my brief traveling companion on Wilshire Boulevard sought connection in any way that he could, so God seeks connection with us in any way possible. That way is provided through Jesus Christ, the one who was resurrected this day, to provide eternal connection with us. We enter into that connection through baptism, the outward sign in which we say “yes” to relationship with God through Christ. But unlike my connection with the man on Wilshire, which was momentary and unsubstantial, our connection with God, Mira’s connection with God, Mattea’s connection with God, Johnny’s connection with God, and God’s connection with each and every one of us, will last forever, and carries the promise of new and eternal life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Read more!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Raising of Lazarus - One Image, Two Pictures

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Year A
Ezekiel 37:1-3(4-10)11-14; Psalm 130; Romans 6:16-23; John 11:(1-17)18-44
Sunday, March 9, 2008 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

As we approach the end of our Lenten journey, we can look back over the last four weeks at the Gospel lessons from John – the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus’ healing the man born blind, and today, the raising of Lazarus – and see that John has been painting an intricate picture. But this is no ordinary picture. This picture is not like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or his Last Supper. Those pictures depict a specific person or a specific event at a particular point in time. Regardless of where you stand, what you see is what you get, even if you don’t understand particular elements, such as Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile.

This picture being painted by John is a little more mysterious. It does not present a single view of a single subject. Rather, depending on where you’re standing when you look at the picture, you see something different. It’s rather like the beautiful picture that René Rowland did – the one hanging in the hallway just to the right of the sacristy. If you look at the picture up close, all you see is a collection of squares made of fabric of differing patterns, laid out in no particularly discernable arrangement. There may be some sort of patterning in the way the cloth squares are laid out, but what it means is not readily apparent. Overall, it makes a pretty abstract image, although one that is beautiful in its own right. But, if you step away from the picture and look at it from a distance of 15 to 20 feet, what you see is completely different. From that distance, the picture becomes one of two serene figures: Mary, Mother of Our Lord, and the infant Jesus, leaning against her chest, apparently sleeping.

The same physical image, revealing two different pictures, depending on the position of the viewer. In this fantastic image created by a number of squares of fabric, we see close-up, an abstract image. From a more distant perspective, we see a beautiful image of holy mother and holy child. Without the close-up, seemingly abstract picture, we would not have, when we step back a little, the beautiful picture that delights our imaginations.

So what are the different pictures revealed in the one image of John’s Lenten Gospel lessons? First, let’s consider the “close up” picture – the one that we see when we stand very close to the Gospel lessons, examining the words as they are presented on the page. How do the pieces of the stories of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and Lazarus all fit together? Just like René’s artwork, looking at the image presented up close merely seems to reveal an abstract collection of pieces. There may be some discernable pattern in the way the bits of the various stories are laid out. And, in fact, there is. Within this abstract mass, we begin to see that John has provided a picture of who Jesus is. In the Nicodemus story, Jesus talks about the Son of Man, subtly implying that he is that person. In the story of the Samaritan woman, Jesus says in no uncertain terms that he is the Messiah. In the story of the man born blind, Jesus again talks about the Son of Man and this time definitively states that he is indeed the Son of Man. And then, in today’s story of the raising of Lazarus, we have the most abundant and most definitive statement about who Jesus is. He himself says “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.”

And throughout this close-up picture of who Jesus is, the other principle characters provide increasing witness to and verification of who Jesus is. Nicodemus is a bit ambivalent. The Samaritan woman is willing to accept that Jesus may just be the Messiah. The man born blind does accept that Jesus is the Son of Man based on the proof of the miracle of his healing. And in today’s Gospel account, Martha responds with “Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” – the strongest and most extensive affirmation to date, based solely on her knowing Jesus and not on any visible proof such as the performance of a miracle.

But what do we see in this image when we step back to get a different perspective? Like René’s artwork, looking at the image from a distance, from a different perspective, we see that the various, seemingly abstract pieces viewed together create a new, altogether different picture. It is a picture that reveals something of human life, and more specifically, of the life of the faithful. In the story of Nicodemus, Jesus talks about birth, new birth, new life, through being born of the Spirit. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well shows some of the conditions we may face in life – potentially being ostracized, being a social outcast, being alone. But this story also shows that through our lives of faith, reconciliation is possible. And not only reconciliation with the other, but also reconciliation with our selves. The story of the man born blind shows other conditions that we all face at one time or another in our lives – infirmity and dis-ease, be they congenital, or be they brought on through the inevitable effects of aging. But this story also shows that healing is possible, that our Lord desires for us health and wholeness. And in today’s lesson, we see what awaits all mortals – death. But this story also shows us that death is not the end, but only the beginning; that through Christ, we are promised new life.

In this fantastic image created by the selections from John’s Gospel that we have read during this Lenten season, we see close-up, the revelation of who Jesus is. From a more distant perspective, we see who we are, as human beings and as people of faith. We see birth, we see what troubles and hardships may beset us in our lives, and we see death. But more importantly, we see what our lives can be like by placing our faith in Jesus. Both pictures are part and parcel of the same base image. Without the close-up, seemingly abstract picture of who Jesus is, we would not have, when we step back a little, the beautiful picture of who we are and who we can become through Christ.

While the whole picture, both the close-up and the more distant, provide a fundamental truth about our Lord and our lives of faith, our lives in him, it is the components that we add to the image today that are of critical importance in completing the image. For today we remember some of Jesus’ last moments before he begins his final journey to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. In these last moments, we are witnesses to Jesus’ last miracle, and with the exception of private conversations with his closest disciples, we hear his last public proclamation of who he is. To understand this last miracle, we need to understand this last public proclamation.

When Jesus approaches Bethany, he is met by Martha. Rather than words of compassion from Jesus, or words of relief from Martha, she instantly lays into him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” In other words, “Because you delayed coming, Lazarus is dead. So do something to fix it.” There is a definite edge of complaint and even accusation in her opening comments. But like any good teacher, Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He engages Martha in a practical and theological discussion about resurrection. And then just as she is beginning to understand what resurrection means, he hits her with the truth about who he is – truth with a capital T – “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” As biblical scholar Gail O’Day notes, “Jesus’ self-revelation as the resurrection and the life is the decisive eschatological announcement of this Gospel” (O’Day, 693). It is probably the most significant thing that Jesus says in the entire Gospel According to John. The whole Gospel story has been building to and is built around, this very point.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He also tells Martha the significance of his statement. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” He is affirming his sovereignty over the present and future lives of those who believe in him. He is saying that physical death has no power over believers. For those who believe, the future is not determined by their death. Rather, the future is determined solely by their faith in Jesus. This is “the most far-reaching promise anywhere in the Gospel of what relationship with Jesus offers those who embrace it” (O’Day, 694). O’Day notes that these “are not idle words of hope, because they name the greatest threat to full relationship with God: death” (O’Day, 694). These words “invite the believer to a vision of life in which one remains in the full presence of God during life and after death” (O’Day, 694).

Jesus’ proclamation that he is the resurrection and the life sets the stage for the miracle that is to follow shortly – the raising of Lazarus. But even with all the theological groundwork he has just laid with Martha, she is still a little skeptical. When Jesus tells those at the tomb to take away the stone covering the entrance, Martha protests that Lazarus has been dead four days and that there would be a stench (or, as put so poetically in the King James Version, “he stinketh”). Jesus chastises Martha, saying “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” and then proceeds to reveal it. The stone is removed, and after praying to God, Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” In her commentary, Gail O’Day eloquently describes what happens next. “Lazarus arose still dressed in the clothes of death, dependent on the voice of Jesus to achieve his freedom from death” (O’Day, 692). Jesus has proven that he is indeed the resurrection and the life. And Lazarus has proven that all we need to do to gain our freedom from death is to listen to Jesus’ call to us.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we see once again dual pictures created by one image. Close-up, we see Jesus’ proclamation that he is the resurrection and the life. We see the truth of Martha’s affirmation that Jesus is “Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” In the final days of his life, we witness the truth about Jesus, the truth that the Gospel has been building to, the truth that the Gospel was meant to proclaim.

And as we step back to gain a different perspective on this image, we see not the abstract concept of Jesus being the resurrection and the life. We see not the miraculous event of a man, dead four days, brought back to life by a simple command from Jesus. At a distance, we see a wholly different, a wholly beautiful picture. We see our own resurrections.

Granted, no one since the time of the New Testament has been resurrected as Lazarus was. No one has verifiably died, been buried, and then been brought back to life. We trust that such resurrection will eventually occur, before the Judgment Day. As we proclaim every week in the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” For the time being, resurrection of those who have physically died does not occur on a regular basis.

But that does not mean that resurrection does not occur on a daily basis, for those of us who still live, who live lives of faith in Jesus. He made a promise in his proclamation “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.” This is a promise that we who believe remain in the full love and care of God not only after death, but also before death, during life. This being the case, Lazarus is the archetype for our own lives. Yes, we will die. Our only hope for eternal life comes through Jesus, as he promised to Martha.

But our hope is not limited to the time after our own death. The hope and the promise also apply to our every-day lives. In our every-day lives, we all face dark times, moments of personal death – illness, defeat, rejection. We are all subject to sadness, depression, loneliness. We all succumb to anger, frustration, bitterness. These are moments of personal death that beset us, either occasionally, or on an ongoing basis. These are moments in which we may feel as if we are wrapped in a burial shroud, separated from the world, walking through it, but feeling somehow disconnected from it. At their worst, such moments, which can extend into days, weeks, even years, may cause us to feel as if we are in a tomb, completely cut off from life around us.

If this happens – when this happens – we have two choices. We can go it alone and live in a shroud of darkness, just as Lazarus is wrapped in a burial shroud. We can live in a tomb, sealed off from the rest of humanity. Or we can turn to Jesus, who calls us to come out of the tomb, who calls us to life in him, who through his own death and resurrection, makes all things new, who gives new life.

As we prepare to wrap up our Lenten journey, as we prepare to make that final trip with Jesus to Jerusalem and into Holy Week, as we prepare to face the cross, let us remember that the image before us may not be what it seems. During these final days of Lent, take a close look at who Jesus is – the resurrection and the life – and then step back and see how who he is forms the picture that is your life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

Read more!