Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent: “I am the Resurrection and the Life … Do you believe this?” – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 26 March 2023 by The Reverend Robert Green. (Romans Ch 8: v 6 – 11; John Ch 11: v 1 – 45)

“I am the Resurrection and the Life…Do you believe this?”  (John Ch 11: v 25)

I am sure that most of us have at some time been in the situation where we have had to call for help. It could simply be that you had got lost or separated from a friend and you had to call them to get directions. Or it could be something much more serious where you have had to call the emergency services. In whatever way you made contact, whether by text or phone or even by social media, there has inevitably been a time of waiting, and that time of waiting can seem a long time when the situation is urgent.  As we wait doubts can arise. Has the message been received? Has it been relayed to the right person or department? Is there some delay? Can we trust that help is on the way? Recently having to wait for emergency services has been all too real for so many.

It is said that a week is a long time in politics. But having to wait four days can seem like an eternity when grieving for a loved one. That is how long Mary and Martha had to wait for Jesus to arrive. We read of their disappointment, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”. Their distress, Mary, Martha and their friends mourn for Lazarus who has died., and their disorientation in the delay of Jesus arriving four days after he heard the news. By this stage the situation is beyond remedy, Lazarus is dead, and human hope has evaporated.  This emptiness is not an ending, but is the preparation for heavenly hope in the person of Jesus.

Jesus first has a conversation with Martha when he reveals that he is so much more than the ordinary human being, he is the resurrection, but as he weeps with Mary and Martha, he also shows his humanity, his deep compassion for the world and his intimate involvement with all within it. It is when the sisters lead him to the tomb, he reveals his mission to open a window into God’s glory. We are confronted with our God who acts beyond the scope of human possibility in bringing life to the dead. By his Father’s power Jesus commands Lazarus to walk out of the tomb, and be cut from the graveclothes that bind him.

What then follows is very interesting, for we are told that many come to believe in Jesus, but there are also others, particularly of the religious establishment, who want Jesus to be put to death. The faith it inspires in some, provokes hostility in others, and they see him as a threat, and from this time onward the conflict grows. We know that their attempt to crush all hope in Jesus as Messiah will spectacularly backfire, and his death on the Cross will pave the way for the Resurrection.

The raising of Lazarus is clearly a foreshadowing of the Resurrection, and is part of a bigger picture. Jesus was never unaware of Mary and Martha’s suffering, and even when they were waiting for him to come, he was at work. He said to the disciples, “it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it”. As the hymn puts it: God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform”, but for those who have to live through devastating circumstances like Mary and Martha, the waiting and praying seem to be of no avail. Jesus never seems to answer, and the situation goes from bad to worse and we can see no way forward. It is when all our ideas about what God can do are exhausted, that we are simply asked to trust in his presence. He has been with us all along. The one who walked the way of the Cross giving his life for us knows what it costs and the courage it takes to put total trust in the Father’s hands. Despite all that is happening in the world, and may be happening to us, can we go on trusting in the Lord? A tragedy can have two opposing reactions. For some the events cause them to lose their faith. I remember in the very early days of my ministry talking to older men whose experience of the First World War had led them to seriously question their faith because of what they had experienced in the trenches. For others who had survived the horror, a real determination to live out their faith. The Verger at the church where I was a curate was one of seven men Confirmed in the trenches, and he was the only one who survived. He saw it as his responsibility to be a “faithful soldier and servant of Christ until his life’s end”. So when the chips are down, let us keep trusting in Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life.