Saturday, September 6, 2008
Fifth in Lent, 2008
The Raising of Lazarus, Nicolas Froment, 1461
March 9, 2008 Fifth Sunday in Lent (RCL Year A) John 11: 1-45
So the whole story of the Raising of Lazarus appointed for this Fifth Sunday in Lent. Another really long reading in our new lectionary—but of course a story of great drama and power, carrying us along in the depths and the heights of emotion, step by step.
There are other similar stories in the Old and New Testaments—what we might call the ultimate act of miraculous healing, where someone who has been given up for dead is dramatically resuscitated, brought back to life. But really nothing like this. Not just someone who has stopped breathing a few minutes, even a few hours--but here someone who has been dead for a good long while, wrapped in a shroud, buried in a tomb. Days later. The funeral service already complete even before Jesus and his friends arrive on the scene. A stunning and breathtaking story. A couple of weeks early, but a kind of anticipation of Easter, a foreshadowing. Nothing else even remotely like it that I can think of in the Bible. The shroud set aside, the tomb that had been sealed now reopened, and empty. Just something totally unexpected. Catch your breath. Try to take it in.
Stepping back, a fascinating and compelling Lenten tour through this long section of John’s gospel. If we didn’t get the point in the Nicodemus story – how can a man be born again? – and if the story of the Woman at the Well left us puzzled, and if the healing of the Man Born Blind didn’t catch our attention and nail it down for us, here at the funeral of Lazarus of Bethany the Gospel of John draws a final line in the sand. In case we missed the point.
Lent is almost over now, Holy Week nearly upon us. In case we missed the point. This is all—all—all about the power of Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The deep mystery St. John tries again and again to communicate. The heart of baptismal regeneration. Transformation. Renewal. About how in him we cease to be who we were, about how we pass at the font into the waters of the Jordan and die and then are raised up, are reborn into a new life, never again to die but only to live more and more through him and in him.
The season approaches its end with a sense of urgency. In the old Prayer Book Calendar, which you know I love for all kinds of reasons, the name of this Fifth Sunday in Lent was the Sunday of the Passion, the beginning of a little end-of-Lent, season-with-a-season season of Passiontide, and the traditional Gospel lesson for Passion Sunday from the 8th Chapter of St. John, Jesus at the Temple, “In very truth I tell you, if anyone obeys my teaching he shall never know what it is to die.” And if we didn’t get the point in the Nicodemus story, here this is in the reading this morning, a deep connection to the theme of that old Passion Sunday reading: “he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. And Jesus said, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
The question is whether we can take that step, this Lent, this Passiontide, hoping against all the visible evidence of this world. Hoping. Whether we can let go, open our imaginations, our hearts, to believe that there is behind beneath above around us surrounding us embracing us his generosity his kindness his deep love. Whether we can trust. Not that that isn’t always going to be wrapped up for us in fear, doubt, wondering, the ambiguities of our condition. Our human state of being. And that’s never going away.
But the urgency comes because it’s Lent, because the hill outside the City wall is coming into view, because it is the season of the Passion, because the Cross is before us, because he’s giving us all he’s got, emptying himself out, letting it all go, control and power and might—letting it all go, for us. So that he might live with us, and we with him.
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” My hymn for the season. “A wideness, like the wideness of the sea.” Mercy, kindness, graces, welcome, healing. We’re a little slow sometimes, a little caught up in our own thoughts, distracted, suspicious of change. We’re deep in the tomb ourselves, and pretty far gone. But he doesn’t leave us there. That’s the point. He doesn’t leave us there. He comes, and calls us up out of the grave, and he sets us free.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.