Reflections from habitat uniting church's minister, Rev Joan Wright Howie.
Awaken abundant life
Boy: We found out today that Jesus was killed on a cross but after that he rose and was born again.
Father: Yes that is the story of Easter.
Boy: I know, but the weird thing is that when he was born again he did not come back as a baby.
Father: Hmmm yes – I’m not sure exactly how that works.
Boy: You don’t have to know how it worked, you just have to know that it is good. That’s why we have Good Friday!
Father: Yes, it is good.
I was also involved in a conversation with a group of parents that went something like this:
Woman: The reason I am an atheist is because when I was about twelve, my Catholic father gave me some pamphlets to read from his church saying that you had to die to sin and be born again if you wanted to get to heaven. I just thought that was impossible and decided to be an atheist.
Me: It’s a challenging concept put like that to a little girl.
Woman: Yehh, I mean, how can someone who is dead be born again. Perhaps if someone had explained it differently I might have decided to be one of those people who believes in God or something. This idea of dead things finding their way back into life is right at the heart of the Christian story and the bible readings we’ve just heard. The 6 year old boy seemed to think it was a pretty good thing, but the woman recalled herself at 12 decided it was impossible to believe.
I wonder what you make of these stories of God’s Spirit bringing life to that which is dead: a valley of dry bones, a man dead and laid inside his tomb. Our 21st Century minds find it quite difficult to comprehend that new life is possible after something is dead.
Back in the 18th Century Voltaire said: "It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection." Everything in nature is resurrection.
Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent and we are on the annual Lenten journey into death. The themes for each Sunday are taking us step by step toward the crucifixion.
We’ve been on a Quest this Lenten season to consider the nature of God. We’ve listened in on Jesus’ talk about the nature of God with Nicodemus in the middle of the night – We’ve heard him talk about the nature of God with a woman at a well in the middle of the day. We’ve seen him bringing sight to a man born blind and today we hear of him bringing life to a man who has died. What are we discovering about the nature of God?
This morning we hear about a loved one's illness and need; decision-making, timing, and complications, even risks and dangers to be considered; frustrations, questioning, and lack of understanding on the part of those closest to us; grief and mourning by loved ones, and the community encircling them, perhaps not all with the purest of intentions; hope, and the profession of faith and "what might have been". We hear about courage, anger, and weeping; familiar, powerful echoes of other moments in the story we share; "Where have you laid him?" and "Come and see"; mixed motives and responses, for some saw how much Jesus loved his friend. Others, in the face of the physical evidence of the tomb, cynically questioned his power and its political effects. We hear the trust of Mary and Martha, even in the face of physical reality and the stench. Finally, most powerfully, we hear release, glory, and Jesus' own gratitude to God. We hear the words of Jesus, "Unbind him, and let him go."
The strips of cloth of the old life are removed and Lazarus is born again. How can we believe such a story? The dead bones restored to life. Will we respond like the 6 year old boy with his father and decide not to worry about how it is possible and simply affirm that it is good.
Or will we react like the woman when she was 12 and dismiss the impossibility and strangeness in favour of the atheist or agnostic stance of the popular culture of our time. Well, I tend to sit with Voltaire and agree: it is not strange at all – all creation is oozing with resurrection.
We bear witness to it all the time. But more than that, we experience new birth in the cycle of our living. I’m pretty sure we have all known the feeling of those strips of cloth, the grave's apparel, the shroud that wraps us up in a leaden existence this side of physical death and makes us long for release, for the light of day and the feel of fresh air in our lungs? What are the "strips of cloth" that bind us, the addictions and fears, and the feelings of hopelessness and loss? The grief, anxiety, financial troubles, hatred, resentment, or a lack of faith has put us in our own tomb of despair.
Even more important than our own personal experience of resurrection life, is the a social and political consciousness that people filled with hope bring about transformation in the face of oppression; that truth and reconciliation can heal injustice; and compassionate love continues to overcome the powers of darkness and evil, the way communities pull together in the face of natural disasters.
Last night Dixie Chicks concert ‘I believe in a better way’ we can change the energy of the universe – shout it out!!
Jesus called out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come out!"
God is still calling to us today, calling us out from our tombs of despair, denial, and death to new life, right now, right here. “Hey, wake up! Come out into the light!”
What are we discovering his Lenten season about the nature of God? I heard a colleague recently describe the resurrection as being as simple as opening your eyes and seeing what is real. Let’s open ourselves when we are feeling like death, to being born again and open our eyes and pay attention. God is with us.