Sunday, April 10, 2011

Homily for Lent 5A - John 11

(HT Sober Peasant and Thinking Out Loud, for many of the thoughts contained herein)

            Laura pointed out a sad headline this week that asked, “Want to Save Money?  Don’t Get Married.”  It was about how marriage can make couples pay higher taxes than if they were single.  She and I then talked about how the good things in life do require sacrifice – but those sacrifices are worth it in the end.  For instance, just think how much better off financially your parents could have been if you were never born.  Yet they gave up freedom and other things for you – in fact they gave themselves to you.  In a very small way, that reflected God’s own self-giving love for you.  God is pleased when you show this sacrificial love for your spouse, child, parent, friend, or even a stranger, because He first loved you.  And just as you hate to hear the hostility against marriage in our day, in a small way that reflects the hatred God has for the sinful aggression against His holy gifts.
            Likewise, God’s hatred for death is greater than how much we hate it.  For a while we might tell ourselves that death does not bother us, that is actually a good thing.  However, God helps us to be honest with ourselves.  He inspired St. Paul to describe death as an enemy to be defeated.  Now, certainly God uses the circumstances of death to accomplish good things like the Gospel comfort of knowing them to be with the Lord in the better place.  But death is still evil.  It takes our loved ones away and leaves an emptiness in your loved ones’ place.  I still miss my grandparents over a decade after their death.  Every now and then I find myself thinking I need to visit one of your fellow church members, only to remember that their funeral was long ago. 
            We cannot do anything about death tearing asunder the love that God has joined together.  If we had been angry at each other, we could apologize.  If they were sick, we could sit with them and hold their hand.  But dead – we can express our love for them, but not TO them.  We can take care of their remains, but they do not know the difference if someone else does it.  We start talking like Mary and Martha.  “If only… if only I had been there more.  If only I had done things differently.  If only the doctor had known what to do.  If only I had my loved one back…”  
"Adam and Eve" - Adriaen van der Wer...Image by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr
            Just as the love we have for each other is a small reflection of the love God has for us, and just as the hatred you have for sin is a small reflection of how much God hates it, so also the sorrow you have over death is small compared to God’s sorrow over it.  Consider how this story makes it clear that our Lord Jesus is deeply moved by the death of Lazarus.  Even greater was His sadness was in Eden, when death spread to all humanity because of Adam and Eve’s sin.  On that day, Paradise became a cemetery – where joy was replaced with grief as death consumed life and our holy relationship with God was murdered.
            We heard that here four weeks in Adam and Eve’s “if only’s” – “God, if only You had not given me this woman.  If only You had not created the snake and the tree.  If only You had done things differently.”  Both Mary and Martha take up that refrain in today’s text when talking to Jesus.  “Lord, if [only] you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32).  Our prayers can sound that way too when we tell Him what to do.  “God if only You would make everyone cherish marriage.  If only You would have made yesterday go differently.  If only you had answered our prayers for healing.”  As if God needs our advice or help in running the universe.  As if we are all that great at managing our own lives.  As if we care more about life and hate death more than God does. 
raising LazarusImage by Martin LaBar via Flickr
            “Lord, if you had been here…”  Yet Jesus was there.  Four days later than Mary and Martha hoped, a lot later than Adam and Eve hoped, but God our Savior was there and He was not too late.  When the fullness of time had come, the Lord of life stepped into this world of death.  Not just to tell us that He loves us, but to give Himself in love.  Not just to give us resurrection and life, but to be our Resurrection and Life.  He comes not just to raise one dead man, but to be the salvation from death for the whole world.  Where Adam and Eve turned this world of Paradise into a cemetery, Christ turns this world scarred with graves into the new earth of Paradise. 
            Christ’s encounter with death that day in Bethany leads directly His fight with death on His cross.  Raising Lazarus makes Jesus more popular than ever, so the enemies of Jesus begin making plans to kill him.  However, dear brothers and sisters, you know that Christ’s victory over death with the raising of Lazarus was a preview of Christ’s own victorious Easter – when God once and for all bursts the chains of death, strips Satan of his power over us, and overcomes our sin.
            Christ’s day in Bethany also gives a preview of the work He does in and among us today.  In Baptism, where by water and His Word Jesus calls us out of the death of unbelief to the new life of faith.  In His work of Absolution, where Jesus bursts us free from the chains of guilt that drag us down.  Today, as that day in Bethany, Jesus is here and is the resurrection and the life for us – that we may have a new life now and forever. 
            Right now that can be tough for you and me to see.  You might feel like Mary and Martha, mired in the disappointments and death, the trials and troubles that test and tempt you.  You look around like Ezekiel in today’s first reading, and you see only dried out piles of bones – like you live in a cemetery of dead relationships and dreams.  All you can focus on are the tombstones of the past, mocking you and claiming victory over your sorry life.
            In the midst of this valley of the shadow of death, your Lord comes to prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies.  He most certainly promises to deliver you from all this evil, though our Father does not promise how soon He will do it.  So that you might bear your cross and die with Jesus, He delivers to you His life-giving body and blood.  Take, eat and drink to receive His forgiveness, resurrection, and life.  Even though your enemies mock you, though your past haunts you, they cannot defeat you.  That victory has already been won – for you are in Christ and Christ is in you.  Therefore, “there is… now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  And so the same Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead will raise your body to the glorious freedom of His resurrection.
Tomb of Saint Lazarus in BethanyImage via Wikipedia
            You do not have to dwell on the “if only’s” of a different past.  Live in confidence and peace as you leave your regrets behind in Christ’s forgiveness.  Whatever weeping you may need to do, know that Jesus weeps with you until that Day when God wipes away every tear and there is no more sorrow, sickness and death.  Look forward to the different life that Christ is giving now and in the future, where your cemetery is turned to Paradise.  Like Lazarus, hear the Word of Christ that makes you rise to the new life of sacrificial love – as God in Christ first sacrificed Himself in love for you.  Amen. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment