Homily – Sunday, March 26, 2023
Reading: John 11:1-45
We are at the latter end of Lent. On Passion Sunday we look more intently at the cross and ask a very important question- Who is this Jesus to me?
The New Testament lesson read to us is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus. Unbelievable though it may look, and interestingly recorded only John, this text however gives us some salient features of the characteristics of Christ that we could draw strength from.
The key thought evident in this text is- If you believe, you will see the glory of God, and therefore Only Believe.
Do we think that life is becoming so overwhelming that we are losing control- Only believe!
Do we think that there is too much on the plate for us to handle- Only Believe!
Do we think that the burden is becoming harder to bear- Only Believe.
Do we think that the future is looking very uncertain- Only Believe.
Here is the story of a family whom Jesus loved. One in the family by name Lazarus fell badly ill. The sisters Martha and Mary knew that Jesus the healer could do something about the situation and save their brother and therefore sent word. But see what happens!
The Waiting Christ
The first image that I would want to bring to your attention is the fact Jesus waited. In 11:5 we read Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. He clearly also told them, “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
Yes, he stayed two days longer. This helps us think of the perfect timing of God and the motive of God’s name being glorified while we wait.
The question that we often ask when we go through turbulent weather is Where is God in all of these?
When we see war and suffering, pain and agony we get agitated.
But here is the deep mystery of a greater purpose of God in actively waiting, intentionally holding on.
Jesus waits sometimes so that we see the picture better and glorify God.
We often hear the testimony- Had I not got through that experience, my life would have been very different.
Valleys of darkness sometimes helps us appreciate light, the rod and the staff much better.
The Risk-Taking Christ
It was Jesus who told his disciples ‘Let us go to Judea again. The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again? It is going to be a very risky journey (and it turned out to be one). Listen to what Jesus says. ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them. He then tells them exactly what has happened to Lazarus, but the disciples do not seem to have understood its death. But when they saw, that Jesus was bent to go, Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
The Risk-taking Christ is an image that we as Christians and the Church should be looking at more closely. Our preferences to be in safety bubbles has taken off the prophetic cutting edge in our presence in public squares. We are becoming more and more absent in the needs around us. The Church would rather avoid taking positions on justice and liberty when there is reputation at stake. Given a choice between justice and unity interesting the option is for unity.
It was Helen Keller who said- Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. You cannot take the second step without taking off from the first. Comforts zones will not only keep us where we are but also pull us back when we dare to move. Christ shows us a perfect example of risk-taking.
The Promising Christ
It was four days after the death of Lazarus that Jesus came to their town. Martha ran up to him and said- ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’
Jesus then gives her a very profound promise- ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha could only think of this happening at the last resurrection and Jesus affirms and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? Martha tells him Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
Sometimes we know all about Christ but does not see him engaging in our daily life, in our crisis, in our moments of emptiness.
Are we looking for a promise from Christ today as Martha heard him say- Your brother will rise again.
The promises of Christ do not have the limitations that we humanly think of but are also beyond our expectations that are limited by our humanness.
Lent is a time to tune our ears to the soft simple voice of Christ.
The Weeping Christ
Martha informed Mary that Jesus is in town and Mary decided to rush to him. The people mourning with her also joined. Like Martha Mary was also clear- Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. When some said- see how much he loved them there were of course others who said- Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
They wanted to determine the plan and pattern of God’s work.
But the key here is the humanness of Jesus- Greatly moved in his heart, Jesus Wept.
Weeping is never a pointer to ones weakness. Being able to weep with and for others is a quality of the heart.
Weeping could be the sacred washing of the inner self reaching out to the pain and agony of the other. It erases the gap between the I and the Thou and compels you to engage with the wiping of the tear of your neighbour.
The sensitivity and sensibility to weep with the weeping and then the resilience to address the tears is something we should all be searching for within us.
The Intervening Christ
It is easy to watch from a distance and to weep but Jesus goes further than that. Here is a transforming intervention from Jesus. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone.
When Jesus decided to intervene and transform it is our lack of faith that comes on the way.
Logic, reason, science all these limits us from seeing the miraculous possibilities in Christ.
Martha could only think of the stench and she thought it was too late for God.
Jesus said- Only Believe.
Friends, the despondency that creeps in when we think it is now too late for God to act can only be rebutted by the simple faith statement- Only believe.
Who decides it is too late? Why do we believe them and not the one who says- it is never too late- Only Believe.
The Praying Christ
We then see a beautiful prayer of Jesus. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’
One significant aspect in prayer is the assurance that there is nothing too difficult for God and no time too late for God.
See Jesus begins thanking God for always hearing and that this prayer is not only for Lazarus and his sisters but also for the sake of the crowds- that they would believe in him.
This confidence in the father who is always approachable and always answers the supplications is a key element we should draw strength from. Lent should help us reflects on our confidence in God.
The assurance that prayers will be answered is important. Sometimes it might not be the way that we want it to happen. God would have better plans in store that we might not properly understand except in hindsight.
This mystery of God acting and withholding is something we need to understand better.
The Unbinding Christ
The climax of the story is profound. When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Jesus is not just a miracle worker, but he is the one who opens closed doors, unbinds and lets people go free into a new freedom.
Everyone thought that the Lazarus story is over. But for God, there was more to it.
Friends, never think that our stories are done yet. There is an exciting new chapter. It is when the existential angst creeps in that creative possibilities also crops up.
Someone, hands and feet bound and face wrapped, closeted in a cave is symbolic of several realities around us and let us rest assured that Christ is one who unbinds.
We now move on into the palm Sunday and Easter.
One of the interesting characteristic of Lazarus in the Bible is that he did not utter a word that was recorded.
People would have asked him- What happened? Were you wrongly pronounced dead? Did you gain consciousness after they closed the cave or when Jesus called? Did you really die and if so what was the experience? Did you go to heaven?
Unfortunately, none of that is recorded. And therefore, the message for us to take home is simple- ONLY BELIEVE
March 26, 2023