The Passiontide journey with Jesus
Mary Copping, 26 March 2023
Ezekiel 37:1–14; John 11:1–45
Today is the start of the church season called Passiontide. As we journey towards Holy Week and Easter, we travel with Jesus on his last difficult days and then his death on a cross. We enter upon the last and most solemn portion of Lent. We live this time with Jesus – a time of sorrow and pain for him and for all those around him. We walk with him on this way, the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.
The gospel today is the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead – Lazarus, a friend of Jesus and the brother of Mary and Martha; Lazarus, who died when Jesus was not there. Jesus knew that his friend was ill and yet he remained away. By the time he arrived in Bethany his friend had been dead a number of days.
At that point Jesus came to the tomb and called Lazarus to come out. His dead friend emerged from his burial place, covered in the bandages that he was wrapped in when he died. This was the last of Jesus’ miracles before his death. It is a wonderful part of the gospel to hear, and the whole story pre-empts Jesus’ own death and resurrection. But, of course, Lazarus had to die in the end.
Why did Jesus wait two days to go to Lazarus, saying he knew that this sickness would not end in death? There are many thoughts about this.
As Jesus said, it brought glory to God. It demonstrated that Jesus has power over death. It proved that he really is the resurrection and the life. Showing that Jesus could give life back to the dead increased the faith of his disciples.
And it was also a forerunner of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus would rise on the third day; Lazarus was raised after being dead four days.
It is moving to hear the human interaction between Jesus and the two women as he approached them. Both Mary and Martha exclaimed to him, ‘Lord if you’d been here my brother would not have died’. In other words, where were you? Why weren’t you here, why didn’t you come quickly to do something? If you’d been here, Lord, if you’d heard my pleas, this might never have happened. The sisters just couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t come straight away. Why did he take so long?
Why? This question has been asked me many times, especially recently after the death of Peter Seal, but also in many other circumstances. Why, God, why? Sometimes we are left like the disciples after Jesus’ death – shocked, completely overwhelmed, broken-hearted and mystified at what has happened, at a loss to understand. But, ours is not always to try and understand, though we might want to; ours is to somehow have the faith to believe that God is still with us, loving us and working with us.
Michael Joseph led the Lent course on Tuesday on ‘lamentation’. He spoke about the fact that we are encouraged to express our distress or complaint to God, that we can ask boldly for God’s help and then we can choose to trust in God. This is exactly what Martha and Mary did when Jesus came.
Someone asked me after Peter’s death, ‘Has this shaken your faith?’ I responded that my faith in God is not shaken, but my faith in the way God works has been dented a bit. I am choosing to trust in God and his purposes and not to have any answers.
In another translation of this gospel passage there is the shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus wept’. Jesus felt such deep sorrow at the suffering of his dear friends Martha and Mary and wept with them. The other time we hear of Jesus weeping was when he went into Jerusalem and wept over it.
It is interesting to note that in the mind of the ancient Greeks the primary characteristic of God was apatheia: the total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. This is not the God of the Bible or the God we know. God rejoices with us, weeps with us, his people, and wants us to share with him our joys and our sorrows.
The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. This is not the God of the Bible. God rejoices with us, weeps with us.
As we journey with Jesus, as we feel the pain of our lives and the pain of the world and a little of the pain Jesus suffered, God weeps with us. God cares about our tears; God wants to be with us to help us in our pain.
In Jesus’ interaction with Martha he responds with the wonderful words, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life.’ This verse is often spoken at funeral services. And yes, because of Jesus and all that he has done for us, we are people of the resurrection, an Easter People, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Hope is at the centre of the Christian faith. It is not a mere fancy or a slight wish but a concrete knowledge of a God of love who makes things right in the end.
The resurrection of Jesus promises us new life, not only in the world to come but in this world. We live new lives as Christ’s people. In our Old Testament reading we are told that as Ezekiel prophesied, God told him to breathe into dry bones, and they came to life. God says, ‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live’. So God breathes his life into us each hour, each day, as his Easter people.
Jesus’ motivation was love. Jesus loved his friend. In love, Jesus called his name. It was the power of God’s love for this man and for the world that raised Lazarus from his grave.
It is that same power that makes us an Easter people. And as God’s Easter people, our calling is to demonstrate God’s redemption in how we live and how we love. We live in a sometimes dark, painful world which needs so much of God’s love and power, so much of the breath of God’s Holy Spirit to bring life.
Some words from a Eucharistic prayer: ‘May we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world’. Let us as Easter people bring God’s light to others as we walk the way of the cross.