Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
29th Mar 2020
Sermon for Lent 5 Year A The Raising of Lazarus
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him. Let him go free”. John 11.44.
The Raising of the dead man Lazarus, and his emergence, after four days out of the tomb, is perhaps the most spectacular of the signs and miracles of Jesus. John’s account places this event before that of the Passion of Jesus and it prepares us for next Sunday’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem and for His judgement, suffering and death. The raising of Lazarus is linked to the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead. It also allows us to see that it is in Jesus that our own hope of the Resurrection from the dead is founded.
In Christ Jesus our lives, all that we are and all that we do, find their true meaning. He who has become one of us, lived as we do, has made holy all that we are and all that we do… He has made our joys and laughter holy, our daily tasks as well, and so too, our suffering, and also our dying. These are now holy things, sanctified because he has touched them.
Cardinal Basil Hume Seven Last Words.
You will see as you look around this church, that like Lazarus, all our statues, all those objects in the church that remind us of the glories of the Christin Faith, are bound in cloth, and some tied with ribbon as the tombs at the time of Christ were sealed. And these coverings will not be removed until we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Day. John’s Gospel and our coverings provide powerful scriptural and visual evidences for this time being a time when things appear to be winding down. The whole shape and form of the Church’s worship becomes graver and more stark and intense. We are being prepared for the saving events of the Christian Faith in the judgement, death and then beyond that, the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should not assume that what we are doing is either entering into a mere drama or paying lip-service to these things, or acting them out two thousand years after the events to which they speak. No, we are embarked upon something which is for us life-saving. If, as is potently cried in the funeral Service ‘…in the midst of life we are in death’, then we are expressing something which lies at the heart of our life’s experience. In the ‘league table’ of emotionally traumatic events, lying always at the top of the list for ever is the death of a loved one, normally a spouse. Both inside and outside marriage relationships there have been countless instances for which love and life have become for two loving correspondents a state of being in the one flesh. There have been relationships in which things have been spoken and shared which have been of inestimable value and of everlasting and deepest significance. There has been abundant love. And where there has been abundant love there has been abundance of hope. And when I place all these statements in the past tense, I have not reckoned upon the quality which may lie in them and in all relationships where deep love has been shared. It is that quality which even after the death or ending of such relationships, something sure and lasting has continued. The joy and pain of it have been mingled and mixed. “All that will survive of us is love” says Philip Larkin in his poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’. And this is resurrection.
No wonder then, that in this account of the raising of Lazarus, we find that smallest passage in the Bible; the one which says ‘Jesus wept’. We know that Lazarus was a very good friend. We are provided with a fascinating insight into the humanity of Christ. “See how much he loved him!” say the crowds. Jesus is in distress and our translation has it that ‘he gave a sigh which came straight from the heart’. If we have experienced these things we may wonder at times and ask the eternal question “Why?” It answer is found or rather discovered in Christ and in the very meaning of his coming, and in particular the compassionate and hopeful nature of his ministry, even to the dead!
This Raising of Lazarus allows us to recognise that the Christian Faith is one which rests on the certain hope of the Resurrection at the last day. This is a hope not founded on a philosophy or a superstition, but in Christ alone. We should not be ignorant in this matter but attentive to its profound significance.
…I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope…
1 Thessalonians 4.13
Finally, The Raising of Lazarus, in bringing us to this point of the realisation of our mortality and of the Christ as ‘The Resurrection and the Life’ of all things, is preparing us for what is and what is to come. In the formal sequence of the Church’s calendar, we are placed somewhere between the climax of the Lenten Season and the coming of Passiontide. The Raising of Lazarus, if it came to us as a piece of music would come as the ending of an overture. It would fill us with the hope of the resurrection of the dead even as we begin to approach the means by which this must come about. It is to next Sunday that we begin to turn, and of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to the acclamation of the people and the waving of palm branches. All life and death will be met in him. But first we must wait. Wait in the joy and the painfulness of human being. We wait as those who are surely provided with the hope that is being set before us. We wait as those who are bound and yet surely set free.
Blessed are you,
O Tie that Binds
One person to another
In the miracle of love.
O Everlasting Moment,
O Hope That Never Dies,
Be with one devastated
By death’s visitation.
Be their life in death,
Their hope in despair,
Their promise of love everlasting,
Now and for ever.
Miriam Therese Walter