Lent 5 :: The dead are raised

John 11.1-45

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

2011 Scotland Trip 288

The flowers that bloom in the Spring

In twenty four years of parish ministry, I have been privileged to be with many people as they passed from this life to life eternal. “Privileged” is a good word here, for death can be a holy undertaking, and those present when a loved one or friend passes are cloaked in holy time. As the Spirit which brings life leaves the body, a new life emerges: a life of eternal glory in the presence of the One who overcame death and the grave. Now, certainly not all death is holy. Violent, horrible, painful death is anything but holy and, as such, is difficult to witness. But if we believe that the Holy Spirit of God encompasses all things, as “wind blow[ing] where it may,” even violent death occurs in the midst of that which is holy.

Of course Jesus understood this. Perhaps this is one reason why he, after hearing of Lazarus’ illness, waited a few days before going to Bethany. He didn’t need to be there, for in at least one way, he already was. Martha and Mary had it wrong. Jesus’ physical presence would not keep Lazarus from dying [indeed, even after he was raised from the dead, Lazarus would eventually succumb to one last death].

I cannot help but think of the countless men, women, and children who have died all alone throughout the ages. And yet, though we will all have to take that journey into death unaccompanied by those we love and who love us, we are never really alone, are we? God’s Spirit takes our hand and leads us to the nearer presence of God.

I’d like to think that Martha and Mary, finally, understood this.

Our reredos cross is draped in black this week, representing the death that we all must undergo. This is not just a physical death, but a death to self and to life apart from the grace of God. But death, like the black veil, is not permanent: it is overcome by the One who raises us up at the last day.


Link to RCL Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A


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