Sunday, April 2, 2017

'Lazarus, come forth!'

May my words be in the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our gospel reading today Jesus stands outside the tomb of his friend and follower Lazarus and commands the dead man to come forth. It is perhaps the best known of all of Jesus' miracles – so well known that the name of the man raised from the dead is often used to describe occasions when a person seems to all but miraculously survive a brush with death. But sometimes familiarity can breed if not contempt then at least a certain comfortableness with the event. We know from the moment the passage begins what is about to happen. And so perhaps something of the awesomeness of what is recorded here can pass us by. We read of Jesus raising the man from the dead and we almost forget to think how remarkable what is recorded here really is. Instead, when we hear how he stood outside the tomb of a man who had been dead and buried for four days and says 'Lazarus, come forth' and the dead man obeys and is restored to his family we should be stricken to our core. For by virtue of the living and inspired word of God in Sacred Scripture we have been made witness to something truly extraordinary – the power of the divine in action. For it is only God that can restore the dead to life.

This point is brought out very clearly in our reading from the prophet Ezekiel, the most famous of all the passages in this book of the Bible, concerning the valley of the dry bones. In it God almost teases the prophet – look at all these bones, and see how dry they are – so dry, as we learn later that no so much as a scrap of flesh remains upon them, not even a withered sinew – can something like this live again, he asks? And the prophet wisely defers to the Almighty, saying that is something that only he can know. And God tells him that these bones will indeed live again; and the reason that they will live is so that he will know that this is indeed the Lord.

And that last point is important, for it is for just the same reason that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Before he begins his journey to Bethany to where his friend is buried, Jesus tells his disciples that he is glad for their sake that he had not been there to prevent Lazarus from dying – why? So that they will see the divine power he wields, the power over life and death. He says much the same thing to those who stand by the tomb with him, that they are about to see the glory of God. Something that they indeed see when he tells the dead man to come forth.

Jesus intends that those present be awed by what they see, that they be left in no doubt that what they are seeing is the glory of God first-hand. He wants them to understand who it is that stands before, that he is exactly who he claims he is, the Son of God, a person who can say with absolute truth that he and the Father are one – a claim that the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day had no hesitation in understanding was a claim to be God himself – for they, in their wilful blindness refused to believe him and instead accused him of blasphemy, knowing that by what he said he was making himself equal with God.

And this is the point we must not miss – Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead to give witness to his divine authority - not for the sake of restoring his friend to the world. Of course he loves his friend – he weeps at his grave; and he loves Martha and Mary also, the dead man's sisters and it grieves him to see them mourning for their brother. But the lives of all men end in the grave. No, Christ's purpose was to show even though the grave waits for all, the grave does not have to be the end of life. True life, as we read in our Epistle, is the life we have in Christ. Christ calls Lazarus forth from the grave so that all might know that he came into the world so that all men might be saved and have eternal life.

Without this hope it is the world that is the grave; for without this hope our lives are short and meaningless and crumble to dust that are lost in the winds of time after a few short years. But we do have that hope. Christ proved this to us in many ways. And today we see him doing it by calling Lazarus forth from the grave. And by doing so, he does far more than make a single dead man live. He calls us forth all of us who were otherwise dead into eternal life. Christ calls us all forth to share in eternal life with him. The question we must ask ourselves is our we listening … and our we willing to obey him and so enter into the eternal life he offers? This is something that I pray all here will: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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