Third Sunday of Easter – evening
Sunday 5th May 2019
Easter 3 – evening
Isa. 38. 9-20
John 11. 27-44
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
If these walls could only speak!
How often have you heard that said? What, I wonder would the walls of this church have to say to us as we sit here in our post-Easter comfort?
Any ideas? What phrases do you think have been indelibly recorded into these stones?
Well, one suggestion I have read about is the phrase uttered by our Lord – “I am the resurrection and the life.” For not only has every Vicar and Priest in Charge spoken it when reading this passage from John 11. But almost every time we have a funeral it is this phrase that begins the whole ceremony as the coffin of the deceased arrives in church. Words chosen precisely because they feature in this account of the raising of Lazarus. Words of comfort that reassure us that Jesus has gone the way of death ahead of us and has defeated death for ever, so that we have far less to fear.
And the opening words – “I am” are the same words that God uses during his meeting with Moses in the burning bush. When Moses dared to ask God what his name was, God replies by saying “I am who I am”. (I will be who I will be) It is one of the greatest moments in the OT, for that name, “I am” implies the constant and continuous presence of God with us – always, everywhere; the name implies that God creates, sustains, enfolds and challenges all that is; and it implies too that our sense of identity – our I am-ness if you like, derives from that of God.
But in John’s story of the raising of Lazarus, there is even more. You remember when Martha appears to chide Jesus for getting there too late … “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died….. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day”.
This dialogue centres on the traditional teaching of Judaism about the resurrection of the dead on the last day. It was an all or nothing sort of thing – which is why they find it hard to accept that God would begin by resurrecting just one man – Jesus. But when Jesus goes on to say “I am the resurrection and the life,” he was claiming that the traditional teaching of Judaism was now to be found in himself. Which also implied that the last days were upon them – and maybe they are upon us too?
It is as though all time and all the great spread of eternity has been compressed into this one individual, standing before this grieving woman. His being and the Being of God are now one and the same. You can understand why people got so upset when they heard him say things like this! But as Easter people, we know that his claim was quite justified. The Kingdom of God may not have come completely, but it has certainly drawn near!
So it is no wonder that the profound beauty of these words “I am the resurrection and the life” – have been chosen and used as the verbal introduction to the funeral service – and so would have embedded themselves in the very fabric of our church buildings. After all, if Christ is “I am” and God is “I am”, then through the very fact of our existence, our own, “I am”, we too are embedded in the very life of God.
Where do you look for evidence of the risen Christ, of the existence of God I wonder? Many will speak of God – out there somewhere. A force of nature or a spirit of goodness and truth. But increasingly I am drawn to the notion of God who is ‘in here’, deep within the hearts of all men and women. Integrated into our very being and too close to separate. Oh, if these walls could only speak!
You fill creation with your presence,
Giving yourself completely in love.
Open our hearts and minds in gratitude,
Turn our paths from anxious worrying,
Bless us now with the gift of thanksgiving.
In Jesus’ name we pray.