Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, at St George's Campden Hill, Sunday 2nd April, 2015 - 5th Sunday in Lent

 Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, at St George's Campden Hill, Sunday 2nd April, 2015 - 5th Sunday in Lent

Sermon on the Raising of Lazarus.

Woody Allen, that well known Jewish theologian tells the story of the Rabbi who was asked: “Why do you rabbis always answer a question with another question?” The rabbi considered his response and answered: “Why shouldn’t we answer a question with a question?”
Jesus often prefaced his parables and miracles with a question. “Who touched me?” before healing the woman with haemorrhages. “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God” before telling the parable of the mustard seed.
In today’s parable, so vividly observed, like multiple close-ups in a film, Jesus asks:
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
This miracle of the raising of Lazarus, described at such length and only in St. John’s gospel. It comes in the middle of the Gospel and is the fulcrum. It is this miracle that leads to Jesus’s arrest. This time Jesus, in the view of the religious authorities has gone too far. He had already raised the recently departed son of the Widow at Nain, from his funeral bier. But Lazarus was different. He had been dead for four days. As someone on my training course put it, Lazarus was very dead.
It was this most astonishing miracle that put Jesus on a collision course with the authorities.
It is probably not coincidence that in the parable in Luke’s Gospel, the poor man at the rich man’s gate is also called Lazarus. The parable ends with Jesus saying the prophetic words: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”
Why does John set such store on this miracle? What might we learn from this miracle?
I suggest there are two things.
First, the divine nature of Jesus. And second the humanity of Jesus
With both the resurrection of Lazarus and of the widow of Nain’s son they were brought to life, only to depart this earthly life again later. So they are different to what will be our own resurrection. Their Resurrection is a sort of Version 2.0 Resurrection, if we treat Elijah’s resurrection of the widow’s son at Zarephath and Elisha’s resurrection of the son of the Shunammite woman as Version1.0. But Jesus’s own Resurrection is the ultimate conquest over the evil of death. We can call it Version 3.0 -- which brings about the reality of his statement to Martha that we just heard:
“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.”
The raising of Lazarus and Jesus’s words to Martha, linked to His own resurrection creates faith in our own resurrection.
Of course we do not know the mechanics but we have faith in the words of St. Paul, that when we die: “flesh and blood do not inherit the kingdom of God but we will be changed.” We will become closer to God and leave behind all the things that separate us from him.
The second lesson I take from this highly detailed portrait of our Lord at work, is the Incarnational Jesus: His grief and anger at the death of a loved one. The truly human Son of God which was so readily apparent to the Jewish bystanders.
Jesus shows us that there is nothing wrong with grieving at the loss of a loved one. Grief at separation is not in opposition to faith in the resurrection, even if we believe our loved one is dwelling in a greater light and closer to God. It is this compassion of our Lord,  that led the author of Hebrews to write: “he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect” – to be the Great High Priest who has linked us eternally to God.
Jeffrey John, the current and much loved Dean of St. Albans, has written:
“When we lose someone who is worth much more to us than life itself, or when the time comes for us to look our own death in the face, there is more comfort to be had in a friend who can grieve with us than one who simply exhorts us to have faith and be brave; and there is infinitely more in a God who does the same.”
The miracle of the raising of Lazarus prepares us for Holy Week, for Jesus’ own resurrection and for our own resurrection. The lessons of the culmination of Lent giving way to Easter are that we can see life through the lens of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. We are able to leave St. George’s here this morning unbound from our sins, living in hope. And when we are reminded of our own mortality, let us call to mind the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
“So death will come to fetch you? No, not death but God himself. Death is not a horrible spectre we see represented in pictures. The catechism teaches us that death is the separation of the soul from the body; that is all. I am not afraid of a separation that will unite me for ever with God.”

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