Raised from death

Lent 5

John 11

Marian Free

In the name of God who opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf and raises the dead to new life. Amen.

The invention of the telescope changed the way we see the world. By using the telescope to follow the movement of the stars and the planets, Copernicus, followed by Galileo came to the conclusion that the earth was not the centre of the universe – instead of the sun revolving around the earth, the earth revolved around the sun. A similar seismic in the way we view the world occurred later when Darwin released his theory of evolution. For most of us it is impossible to think that the world is flat, to imagine that the universe is centred on planet earth or to believe that nature is static and unchanging.

Even though we are not all scientists, all of us have, from time to time what you might call “aha” moments – moments when we see something from a completely different perspective, moments when something that had previously seemed completely incomprehensible suddenly becomes crystal clear, or moments when we finally understand why it is that someone else appreciates a particular piece of music, or enjoys watching a particular sport. At such times it is like the fog has lifted and we see the world in a completely new light. Once our eyes have been opened, our lives can never go back to the way they were.

As we have seen over the last few weeks, the author of the gospel of John appears to be trying to move his readers to such an experience, to bring them to a place in which they see things in a completely new way. Through conversations and acts of healing, Jesus tries to open the eyes of those around him, to help them to think in a radically new way. He talks about ideas which to his listeners are at first completely incomprehensible – being born from above, living water, the light of the world. He is teasing them, tantalising them with new concepts in the hope that he will be able to break through their conventional view of the world and enable them to see the world through God’s eyes.

And now we come to the crunch – Jesus does something totally shocking and unbelievable – he brings a man from death to life. The new form of existence, this new way of being to which Jesus points is literally new life, it is like being raised from the dead!

For the author of John’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the climax of the gospel. John been carefully building up to this point – challenging his readers to see things differently, to look beyond the obvious, to see the new dimensions of being that are now dramatically and visibly illustrated in the raising of Lazarus. Faith in Jesus leads to new life in the present as well as in the future. Those who believe in Jesus are radically changed. Through faith in Jesus they become truly alive, they recognise the emptiness of their existence and the possibilities that faith in Jesus makes possible.

John’s gospel aims to open the eyes of his community to this new life that is possible through faith in Jesus and the raising of Lazarus is the most eye-opening event that has happened so far.

More than any other gospel, John is written for a community of believers. It assumes that the readers/hearers know the story and how it ends. In some sense the gospel is written as an elaboration of the story. It endeavours to do more than simply tell the story of Jesus, it wants to move its readers to faith – a faith that will totally redefine their understanding of reality, to move them beyond the superficial and material to a deeper more spiritual existence. It is not that the story of Jesus is not important – of course it is – but John assumes that those who will read or hear his gospel already know the story of Jesus. John wants to ensure that the way in which he tells the story leads to a life-changing experience for those who hear it. John wants to do is to move his readers from an intellectual faith to a relationship with the living God.

In a sense the gospel is a spiritual handbook to help the community live that faith. So it gradually brings its readers into this new awareness until it reaches the climax in which Martha declares Jesus to be the Christ, and the life that Jesus offers is vividly demonstrated in the raising of Lazarus. Having reached the climax – faith in Jesus leads to new life, not only in the future, but in the present -the author moves to the mundane instructions for the community – a community changed and charged by faith in Jesus.

This is the point that Jesus is moving his readers to – an awareness that faith in Jesus is life-changing, and life-renewing. That knowing Jesus means that their lives will never be the same again, they will see the world differently because their eyes are ears will be open to new possibilities. They will see and experience life in a new way. They will move as it were from death to life. Alive to God in Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit in them, free to live life and to live it to the full.

We can choose to remain within the safety of the tomb, safe and secure in the life we have always known. We can hold on to the past, allowing our lives to be circumscribed and limited by what we can see or touch or feel. Or we can respond to the voice of Jesus calling us out of the tomb into new way of living, into an adventure of faith that refuses to be defined, but which constantly opens and expands our horizons as Jesus draws us deeper and deeper into the truths that he reveals.

The story of Jesus is so much more than a story. It is an invitation into a journey of faith, a journey that will lead us into the very heart of God. We are invited to throw caution to the wind and embark on the adventure of a lifetime that will take us all the way to eternity. How can we not respond?

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