28th / 29th March 2020

posted 27 Mar 2020, 03:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A (26/3/20)


The death and returning to life of Lazarus:  St John’s Gospel has a completely different style and approach to the other three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  One of the things we see is that there are various “signs”, as they are called, that Jesus works, that lead more and more people to believe in Him, ultimately culminating in His own Death and Resurrection.  So it’s in that context that we understand the situation of Lazarus.


Back when I was studying St John’s Gospel as I was training for the priesthood, we were also told something else about it’s style:  it’s a bit like certain other books and theatrical productions, where the audience is given advance knowledge which the characters don’t know.  So the example we were given was a bit like this:


A murder mystery.  Scene one:  a country manor.  One morning, the Lord of the manor is murdered by the butler in the library, and his body is hidden behind the closed curtains.


Scene two:  entrance, stage, left, the Lady of the manor, together with invited guests.  She goes over to the curtains and says to her visitors, “I’m just going to show you a scene that you will remember for the rest of your lives”.  We know that it’s not the rolling hills that they will always remember.


So at the beginning of today’s Gospel, before Lazarus dies, Jesus delays in going to see him, and says to His disciples, “This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified”.  We know that it’s not going to be the case that once Lazarus dies, everyone is sad, and then goes home, and that’s the end.  “This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.”


But everyone else doesn’t know this.  Martha begins by saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  She expresses her faith in Jesus’ powerful prayer to the Father, and says, “I know that he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day” - it’s part of Jewish teaching, so she does believe that.  But she doesn’t know what’s coming up next.  Mary says to him, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  Some of the Jews say to each other, “He opened the eyes of the blind man [see last week’s Gospel], could he not have prevented this man’s death?”  Yes, He could have done, but He chose not to, for the sake of something even more important.  Then we have the restoration of Lazarus to life, and more people coming to believe in Him.


So that’s the situation with Lazarus, and the way St John’s Gospel works at times, giving us, the audience, extra information in advance about what is going to happen.  But there’s a lesson for us here.  Elsewhere, Jesus rebukes the Sadducees, saying, “Is not the reason why you go wrong, that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)  The thing about the Sadducees was that they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  So as the joke goes, they were sad, you see.  But we are not Sadducees.  We have knowledge in advance that our lives will not end in death.  It won’t be like some cartoon where the character dies and then down come the curtains with the words, “That’s all folks!”.  It’s more like the cartoon book of monastic jokes, where the dead monk is lying in state, with a sign saying, “End of Part One”.  We believe that after death comes judgement, and then, ultimately, either heaven or hell.  But there’s more than just that.  Just like Christ, our bodies will rise again.  It’s not like Lazarus.  Lazarus came back to life with the same body as before.  He had to die again.  But our bodies won’t be exactly the same as before, just the same as Christ’s body wasn’t exactly the same as before.  Our bodies will be transformed and glorious, just as Christ’s was after His Resurrection.  It’s something that can’t be fully described until we experience it, a bit like trying to explain to someone who is blind what it’s like being able to see.  St Paul says that it is like when you sow a grain of wheat in the ground – the grain is something quite different from what grows:


“the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.” [1 Cor 15:42-44]


Truly it is amazing.  The raising up of Lazarus reminds us of the power of God, but not what we shall be like.  We are a bit like both the audience, and the characters, in the theatrical production.  We have an idea of what is coming up, but in some ways, we are going to be very much taken by surprise.