Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent. March 28, 2020

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” John 11:25-27

These words from the Gospel of John will be familiar to many of you as they are often read at the burial of our dead. I often wonder how or even if Martha understood what Jesus was saying to her in her grief over the death of her brother Lazarus. We hear this declaration of Jesus’ promise as filled with eternal hope but we listen secure in the knowledge of our Lord’s resurrection. Martha did not have this perspective. She stood desolate in the road looking to her friend for solace and for some words to help her understand the tragedy that had befallen her family. She believed that if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus’ death he would have been able to heal him. But to ask her to accept that her friend had the power of life and death…that he could resurrect someone from the grave was perhaps an unreasonable expectation.

In all probability, neither she nor Mary knew what Jesus intended to do or that he even could do such a thing. But at this moment all that mattered was that they trusted Jesus…trusted that he loved them…trusted that he loved Lazarus and trusted that he was a man of his word and would not offer them false promises. In Martha’s confession, we hear the declaration of one who believed in the fulfillment of God’s promise in the person of Jesus. He was the Messiah …the One sent by God to save his people. No one could really know how that deliverance would happen until it was accomplished.

The raising of Lazarus is perhaps Jesus’ greatest miracle…the definitive example of God’s power working through him in real-time. Although Jesus knew and accepted that God would grant him this extraordinary thing he still wept at the suffering of his friends. He could not undo the pain that they had already experienced in Lazarus’ sickness and death. Lazarus’ death was not just a means to an end. God does not intentionally inflict suffering upon his children…not to teach us a lesson or to show his omnipotent displeasure. Yes, I believe that God as the power to control every aspect of life on this planet but I do not believe that God does.

As for we the created, we live in a world limited by time and space and by our own biological processes. Everything that lives must eventually die and the bits and pieces of elemental matter that make us up, go back into the universe to become part of the whole. But the essence of us…whatever that is…goes back to the Creator. In the resurrection, we will be embodied in a new way…in a way that allows us to be one with God and yet remain ourselves. This is our hope of eternity…the nearer presence of God and for time without end.

But in this life, it is our lot to walk by faith and not by sight. We cannot know how or when God will bring his promises for us to fulfillment… we can only trust in the love of God and seek to follow the path of righteousness while we have the will and ability to do so. There is no guarantee that life will be easy but our Lord has promised to be with us no matter what we face. Whether in joy or travail we are not alone…our God is with us, loving us, strengthening us when we falter and helping us back up when we fall.

Sometimes the presence of God with us comes in the form of another person…who says the right thing at the right time….who steps in to help us carry a burden that has become too oppressive…who offers comfort and friendship without condition. Sometimes the voice of God is that still small voice within oneself telling us to get up from the dust where we have fallen…to try again. Sometimes it is the Holy Spirit that strengthens our weak limbs and sustains our trembling hearts giving us courage in the moment we need it. We sense her in those moments when we have that feeling of expansive potential…when we feel the possibilities of life stretching out before us….or when we find ourselves able to do that very thing we never thought we could do.

In my own life, I have discovered that if I expect and look for the Presence of the Holy Spirit she will always show up. In fact, I have come to believe that She is always there…what changes is my willingness and ability to accept the gift of her abiding companionship.

Our Lord has given us the gift of free will and that means that we are free to turn away from the loving presence …. We are free to reject our Lord’s guidance and go our own way. But no matter how often we refuse God does not abandon us. Yes, we will be left to our own devices and the consequences of our own behavior but our Lord waits patiently to forgive and to welcome us back if and when we realize our need for God’s love.

In these strange days when we are learning new ways of living out our faith do not forget the lessons of the ancient Church fathers and mothers who sought the Lord in solitude and contemplation. In the stillness of the silence, we can often hear the voice of the Lord more clearly than in the midst of the noise of our usually busy lives. I think the issue that most of us have with contemplative prayer is our aversion to being alone with ourselves.

Perhaps the first conversation we need to have in those moments alone is the conversation with our own soul. In this intimate moment, we can bring out all of those hidden things we have pushed to the back of our mental closet…the anxiety….the fear…the anger…our internal struggle with pride and arrogance…with greed and the insatiable hunger for more….

Brothers and sisters, our Lord already sees into the depths of our hearts and knows those things that cast shadows on our lives….knows…accepts…and loves us anyway. If we can bring ourselves to lay these broken parts of ourselves before the Lord we will find comfort…and often healing. Perhaps we can take this time of imposed solitude as an opportunity to grow in self-awareness and in our awareness of the presence of the Sacred Other….the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord has not caused this crisis in which we find ourselves but God will be present in our response to it. We can take this as a spiritual challenge…a chance to practice our faith in ways we would never have imagined before. Our minds and our souls are not bound by the same restrictions of our bodies. In those moments with God, we are free and love is infinite. Do not despair. This will all pass in time and perhaps we will find ourselves stronger….more faithful…more loving and more confident in our own faith.

Paul told us in his letter to the Romans that we are not in the flesh; we are in the Spirit since the Spirit of God dwells in us. We do not have to seek the Spirit of God she is already there within us waiting for us to recognize and welcome her indwelling Presence. This was the gift of the Incarnation. God would no longer dwell in temples made with hands but in the human heart. We do not have to gather in our Church buildings to worship our God who lives within us. We are the temple of the living God and the abiding Spirit will enliven us with her joyful energy.

Let us continue to check on one another…to pray for one another….to help the vulnerable…to reach out to the isolated using the means at our disposal and to respect and care for the temples of our own bodies. Trust in the Lord and he will see us through this life and into the next.

Be blessed….be safe….be of good courage.