Benediction Online

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Resurrection and the Life

The Rev. Donna Ross

These past few months our world has suffered through many tragedies.
Do you realize that it was only six months ago that those Chilean miners were trapped for 70 days?

Remember how long they waited in the dark before anyone knew they were alive?

Remember how they waited while a tunnel was drilled, half a mile down into the earth?

Remember how they were lifted back to life in a specially-made capsule? Before the capsule began lifting them up from the total darkness of the mine, each miner was given sunglasses to protect him from the brightness of the daylight. And, as the capsule reached the surface, a worker yelled out the miner’s name: “Esteban!” or “Claudio!” or “Carlos!” When the miner heard his name and answered, the crowd – miners, their families, community leaders – chanted his name aloud and applauded, encouraging him to come out of the darkness back to the light, from death back to life.

I cannot imagine living in the darkness for all that time, knowing all the time that I was slowly dying. And I cannot hearing my name called from above, as the surface light began to penetrate the 70th day of my life in darkness. With what fierce determination I would call back, “Yes, here I am! It is me! I am alive!”

The raising of Lazarus

Do you think that’s what it was like for Lazarus and his family, for Lazarus and his village?

He had been in his tomb for four days, and no one ever expected to see him alive again.

Yet Jesus came to his tomb and shouted his name: “Lazarus, come out!” And, hearing Jesus call his name, Lazarus came out of the tomb, trailing his bandages, staggering into the daylight.

Was this the greatest of Jesus’ miracles?

While the other gospels give us many stories of healings and miracles, John’s Gospel gives us only a few. And in John’s Gospel these events are not presented as supernatural miracles, God’s overturning the laws of nature. Instead, John calls them signs – they are signs of the power of God’s life in Jesus.

A sign is something that points us to something we need – something that, without the sign, we might not see. And Lazarus’ return to the daylight, his return to life, is a sign that points us to something we need to see.

A sign is “a finger pointing to the moon”

What does John’s Gospel mean when it speaks of signs? Marcus Borg writes, “Buddhists often speak of the teaching of the Buddha as ‘a finger pointing to the moon.’ The metaphor helps guard against the mistake of thinking that being a Buddhist means believing in Buddhist teaching – that is, believing in the finger. As the metaphor implies, one is to see (and pay attention to) that to which the finger points.

“To apply the metaphor to the Bible, the Bible is like a finger pointing to the moon. Christians sometimes make the mistake of thinking that being a Christian is about believing in the finger rather than seeing the Christian life as a relationship to that which the finger points.” (Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time)

The meaning of life

In this story, the raising of Lazarus is the finger – and that finger points to the meaning of life.

Like the miners in Chile, Lazarus was brought back into the daylight, given back to his family and his community, given fresh air to breathe and hot food to eat – and a life to live again.

But just like the Chilean miners, almost all of whom struggle with daily life six months after their rescue, Lazarus had to live his very ordinary life again – life with all its sweetness, yes, but also life with all its difficulties. And ultimately, just like the Chilean miners, in the natural course of things Lazarus would truly die and be buried. The new physical life he was given was every bit as provisional as the life each one of us here lives.

Remember what the story tells us: Jesus and some of his disciples were in the Jordan Valley, far away from Bethany when they received a message from Martha and Mary: “Lazarus is very ill.”

After two days Jesus decided to go to Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem – the city where already the authorities are looking for him. Bethany is close to danger, but Jesus chooses to go anyway – even though he knows that Lazarus has already died.

As he approached the village, he meets Martha – who, in her forthright way declares, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!”

(Have you ever thought that Martha gives us an example of how we can talk to God – plainly, with all our feelings, saying exactly what we think?)

Now listen to the rest of their conversation:

Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
And Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and I am the life.”

(Have you thought of what it would be like, to live your life with Jesus, to walk the roads of your life with his Spirit, to live in daily relationship with a God who cares, a God who comforts, a God who guides?)

Here’s the moon this story points to: The life Jesus is talking about is not just resurrection life. That is, the life God wants to give us is not just life in heaven after we die. The life Jesus is talking about is life right now: we don’t have to wait to die before we can live our life with God.

Life with God NOW – what gifts does that give us?

So much to say! But right now, I’d like to point to two of those gifts:

God’s presence: God is always with us, God is always loving us, God is always keeping us alive in the Spirit.

And God’s courage: If we have united ourselves with Christ – his life, his death, his continuing presence – we have already died, so we might as well really live!

Here’s how St. Patrick understood the meaning of the daily presence of the Spirit of God, with him and around him and in him and before him:

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,
God's eye to watch, God's might to stay, God's ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach, God's hand to guide, God's shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech, God's heavenly host to be my guard.
(Hymn 370, v. 5)

As we walk together through the remaining days of Lent, we are preparing for the Easter feast, and – this Lent especially – we are preparing for the Easter Vigil, when two members of our community will be baptized into the Life of Christ. After their baptisms, we will pray:

Grant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Sonmay live in the power of his resurrection…

What does it mean to live in the power of Jesus' resurrection - and in the power of Jesus' life? Again, we can sing with Patrick:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (Hymn 370, v. 6)


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