|St- Andre-Rublev's Saviour|
In the care of the Ecumenical Franciscan Order
Homily preached at Winmalee on Sunday 6th April 2014
Gospel John 11:1-45
I guess I should have been more careful with the selection of the hymns for this morning. Perhaps I should have chosen that old gospel song “Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones”. That would have been more appropriate, given the reading from Ezekiel.
But have you noticed there are couple of things in the reading this morning they are all about resurrection. They are all about people being raised from the dead. Ezekiel is raising bones from a slain army. I wonder how those families of those slain people would have reacted had they seen his people back alive again. But there he is with the power of God raising what are essentially skeletons back into human life.
There is Jesus with Lazarus in the tomb raising him. I guess he is different because he has only been dead four days, whereas the Army’s been dead a lot longer. But the same thing raising them up from the dead. And the reading there from St Paul’s for the mind of the flesh is death the mind of the Spirit is life. So the theme through these through three readings is morning is all about resurrection.
It’s also pointing us toward the power of God. Because the only person who can raise people from the dead is God. And so all three readings today are pointing towards that. Of course what happens in a couple of weeks’ time is Easter. So it is pointing us again to the event that is coming in two weeks. The resurrection of Christ.
I want to just have a little look at Romans. Now you all know that St Paul is not one of my favourite people; but I want to have a look at Romans. Because Paul is talking about the difference between Spirit and flesh. So when we are thinking about people being raised from the dead being resurrected, we instantly go aha physical resurrection with thinking of bodies and flesh and people moving around and talking like we are, in this room today. But St Paul is talking a little bit differently he is talking about the Spirit. Now the resurrection from the dead can’t happen without the Spirit.
God told Ezekiel that it is the breath of God that will go into the bodies and make them alive. He is talking about the Spirit. If you read in Genesis it was the Spirit of the Lord that moved the face of the waters. And I think if you go back to the Hebrew it actually says the breath of God that breathes across the face of the water. If we look at the gospels, Jesus is often called the Word made flesh. So it is God’s spoken Word that is becoming flesh. Here we see that it is the Spirit is the thing that ties it all in together.
St Paul says those who are in flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you. He is telling us very, very clearly that it is God’s Spirit that we have to have dwelling within us. Doesn't matter so much what the flesh does it doesn't matter how we see the flesh it is life that comes from the Spirit. And that’s why Jesus says to the Apostles on a number of occasions ‘receiving the Holy Spirit. And what does he do when he says that he breathes on them. And when the bishop consecrates the oil of chrism what does he do? He breathes on the oil of chrism which then sanctifies it. It’s the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Just remember it’s the Spirit. When we come to Easter and we talking about the resurrection the same thing is going to happen. It’s the Spirit of God that raises Jesus from the dead.
If Christ is in you the body is dead because of sin but the Spirit is alive because of righteousness. We going back a couple weeks ago. Remember we had that reading where Paul was talking about the sin of body leads us to death. The judgement of the law is sin and death. He’s talking about the body. Not the Spirit, but the body. But if the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
The Lectionary compliers have done it again. They do it all the time. They point us back to Ezekiel, again reminding us here in St Paul and then Jesus is talking the same thing when he raises Lazarus from the dead. I always have a bit of a giggle I am afraid when I think of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Just imagine what it would be like the tomb opened, the smell must've been horrible, and it comes out all wrapped up. He must've been shuffling because he was all bound up in cloth with a veil over his face. So he would have had difficulty seeing.
But what is important in this story is a couple of other things not just the Spirit. The family Mary and Martha and all the people that were with them were weeping because Lazarus had gone. Lazarus had died. We haven’t got the earlier part in the story in today’s reading where Jesus delays his departure to see them. So that in a way he knows he’s dead. Jesus waited for him to die before he went and in part of the reading that we missed Jesus tells us that Lazarus died so that Jesus can raising from the dead. Remember that last week we had the blind man who got his sight back and Jesus said he wasn't he was born blind because he was a sinner, he was born blind so that I can demonstrate the power of God and heal him. Jesus is saying something similar in this passage from John. That Lazarus has died so that I show you the glory in the power of God.
The interesting thing is that he challenges Martha and Mary. He says to them do you believe, and they say yes. So Martha says when Jesus tells her to open the tomb, it’s going to be smelly. Jesus said didn't I tell you that if you believed you would see God’s glory. He’s reminding them that he has that power. But he is also reminding them that it is of the Spirit that dwells within us and within Christ which then raises Lazarus from the dead. And they are a witness to the power and glory of God.
Right at the end of the gospel passage of course many of the Jews, who came to Mary and saw what Jesus did, believed in him. And then there is always that sting in the tail isn't there: Some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. Now we can be fairly certain they went going to go to the Pharisees and say wow isn't he great, isn't he amazing, isn't he terrific. No they going to say look what he’s done now. No they are dobbing on him because we all know the Pharisees don’t like him and neither do the Sadducees like him at all.
In some ways we are like the Pharisees and Sadducees on occasions. We can see all the miracles that Jesus does. We can see in our lives what is happening. We can see the Spirit moving. It is often said you don’t see the hand of God until you look back. When we are going through a crisis or something at the time we don’t actually see the Spirit working. It’s when you stop and reflect and take a fresh look backwards, then you say ahh there is the hand of God at work. So when we doubt and we do doubt because we human. Now I imagine that at some point Ezekiel may have doubted that the bones could be brought back to life. We know, because we can see it, that some of the people gathered there didn't believe that Lazarus will be brought back to life.
So when we have our natural human doubt that something can’t happen, we’re being a little bit like the Pharisees. Because we are looking for evidence, we’re looking for proof that it won’t work. We desperately wanted it to fail, because then we are justified in what we were doing, or not doing, as the case may be. And remember as Christians the Spirit dwells within us so we have to do what we have to do and follow the two great Commandments. Which are love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself.
It’s always that last one that makes it difficult. Loving God can be hard but it’s the second one which is the killer. So when we don’t love our neighbours as ourselves, then we are being like the Pharisees and Sadducees. When we see the miracles around us, we need to remember always that it is the Spirit living within us.
We can rely on God, we can rely on Jesus. Because as he said to Mary and Martha if you believe you will see. There is time to doubt, because then you are like the Pharisees. Just remember to be like Martha and Mary and not like the Pharisees. And St Paul reminds us that the Spirit dwells within us. Grasp onto the resurrection and onto the love of God, which flows from the Spirit. Amen.