Sermon - 5 Lent
In the Name...
A little boy asked his mother why there wasn't anything in the Bible about the other three guys who were raised from the dead with Lazarus. His mother was surprised and said, "What three other guys? It was only Lazarus." "But, mother", the little boy insisted, "Jesus said Lazarus came fourth." No? That bad, eh? Oh, well.
Back in the 4th Century, a Spanish woman named Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and she made careful note of all the festivals and ceremonies she saw observed by the local Christians. Among these was that on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, a celebration was held in Bethany to commemorate what was called, in Greek, the "anabiose" or "revival" of Lazarus.
Poised as this was on the very eve of Holy Week and Easter, the use of the word "anabiose", or "revival", is significant because the Greek word used at Easter for "resurrection" is "anastase" from which we get the name Anastasia. The people of Bethany, then, the hometown of Lazarus, understood that he had been "revived", but not "resurrected", because there is a significant difference between the two - the difference between something temporary and something permanent.
Sometimes a critic will complain - Why didn't Jesus heal everybody of everything? How come he didn't raise all the dead people, like Lazarus? If he was so powerful, why didn't he solve all the problems of the world?
And this is a criticism we've seen before, a few weeks ago at the beginning of Lent, when we heard Satan taunt Jesus with his repeated challenge, Well, if you really are the Son of God, then you can do anything. You can turn stones to bread and end world hunger; you can destroy all the petty kings and give people peace; you can solve all the problems of society.
Yes, those were the temptations in the desert - all temptations for Jesus to use his power to do good. But, how is doing good a temptation? What's wrong with doing good? Nothing. But, Jesus wasn't here to do good. He was here to do something even better.
It's really strange to say this, but, Martha was naive when she said. "If you had been here my brother would not have died." Certainly, Jesus could have healed Lazarus of whatever illness killed him, but Jesus did not have the power to stop Lazarus from dying.
That's right. Jesus did not have the power; God did not have the power, to stop Lazarus from dying. The best Jesus could do was revive Lazarus and give him a temporary extension, but Lazarus continued to age and eventually he died - finally, this time. The point is that no healing miracle, however great, could solve the biggest problem Mankind has always faced, namely, our mortality. The result of the Fall from Eden; the fact that the world in which we live is not as it was created.
There was a famous incident, I'm sure we all remember, where a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus and the first thing Jesus said to him was, "Your sins are forgiven." Now, that outraged the Pharisees, so Jesus replied, "Which is easier? To say to this man, Your sins are forgiven, or to say Rise up and walk?"
Well, from our perspective, and that of the people who heard him, the answer is obvious. Of course, it's easier to say your sins are forgiven, because who knows if they really are? On the other hand, to say rise up and walk is risky because either the guy does or doesn't and everybody can see that.
But, Jesus was God. He had all the power of the universe at his command. For him to un-paralyze a paralyzed man was, in fact, incredibly easy. A word, a thought, was sufficient. Healing sickness, reviving the dead, those were the easiest things Jesus did. But, to forgive sins - in other words to restore the relationship between God and Man - that was another matter and required something more than power. More than power.
We live in an age which tends to downgrade Jesus to the role of a wise teacher and miracle-worker. But, we need to remember Jesus said he was here for one purpose and one purpose only and it was not to teach or make miracles or model a good life. It was to be the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It was to be the Lamb of God whose own death would give us eternal life. And that was something which could not be achieved by an act of divine power. That would take an act of divine love. And loving us so much as to give His Son's life for us was the hardest thing God ever did.
When Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life", in those words he summed up his whole reason for being here. To heal and restore the spiritual and physical sides of creation itself. To kill death and replace it with eternal life. And the only way to do this was to go to the Cross.
Every human has a unique soul, but if we were all just souls then we could exist quite happily without bodies and Christ would not have needed to die upon the Cross. So, the sacrifice of Christ was not just for our souls but for our bodies, as well. The physical body of Man needed saving as much as the soul, because the new and eternal life we look forward to after resurrection is physical and real, even if it's different.
On Easter morning, Jesus did not leave his body behind and waft around like a cloud. Nor did he simply get up and walk about in a continually aging body, like Lazarus. No. He changed his old mortal body for a new type, a new model; the one God wants all of us to have. One that never gets sick or wears out. One which could pass through locked doors and yet still enjoy a broiled tilapia dinner. It's a body which St. Paul says is as different to what we have now as an oak tree is to an acorn, but, it's what we're going to get when we're resurrected.
St. Paul does advise us, though, against spending too much time speculating about what these new bodies are going to look like. For example, what age will we be when we're resurrected? Well, the early theologian St. Augustine did speculate about this a little and he decided that everybody would be 33 years old - the same age as Jesus. I like that.
But, it goes to show that what lies in our future is more than merely an up-standing of corpses, a reviving of what we already have.
Benjamin Franklin, the great inventor, diplomat, politician, and scientist, started in life as a printer. And, when composing an epitaph for his grave, he relied upon the imagery of the body as a book. Here's what he wrote for himself: "The body of B. Franklin, Printer, (Like the Cover of an Old Book Its Contents torn Out And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding) Lies Here, Food for Worms. But, the Work shall not be Lost; For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More In a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author."
A New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author.
That is our confidence as Christians. And that is the future we will celebrate on Easter.
In the Name...