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Sunday May 27, 2018
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“I am the Resurrection and Life”

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, St. John in Naches

Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima

Peace be with you! “I am the resurrection and life,” Jesus boldly proclaims, “whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Note these words well!  And note also – parishioners of St. John here in Naches – that Fr. Richard House had the liturgical good taste to die on the very weekend where Jesus proclaims this bold-faced and full-throated assertion.

Indeed we might do well to remember what an innovation in thought the concept of a “resurrection” really was in the ancient world. Along the ancient Appian Way that connected the Empire capital of Rome with Brindisi in Southeast Italy the traveler can find tombstones of dead – not unlike the roadside crosses we find on today’s highways commemorating the death of a loved one.  On these ancient shrines we can still read quotes such as “O Horatio, how we all miss you! Where are you now?” or “O Agatha you are gone forever never to be seen!”

The doctrine of the resurrection from this teaching of Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel answered basic questions about life after death. It was new.  It was a new idea.  It was new for the Greeks and Romans.  It was also new for the Jews.  Note that at the time Jesus preached the Pharisees held out the possibility of a “resurrection” from the dead while the Sadducees held that there was no resurrection from the dead.

This is why it’s important to note a few details about this Sunday’s Gospel. The first thing to note is that Lazarus physically dies. Indeed, when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has already been dead four days.  That “four” is meant to indicate complete and total corporal death. The Gospel is also careful to note the physical and emotional details of this death.  Physically Jesus is warned not to move the stone since the body has begun decomposing.  Emotionally, Jesus is so aware of this physical death that he weeps at the loss of his friend.

The second detail is the exchange between Martha and Jesus.  Jesus comforts Martha by telling her that Lazarus will rise.  She responds, “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”  Martha clearly is in the “Pharisee” camp on the resurrection. But note that this is when Jesus responds with his deepest self-identity in the entire Gospel of St. John. “I am the resurrection and life; whoever believe in me, even if he dies, will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

With these words Jesus distinguishes between the resurrection of the dead and the resuscitation of his friend Lazarus. In this Gospel Lazarus is not resurrected into eternal life. He is resuscitated back into this life. This is the key and central detail of the Gospel.

Permit me to drive this point home. Every single person Jesus healed eventually died. The hemorrhaging woman? She’s dead.  The man born blind from last week’s Gospel? Dead. The little girl who had a fever? She’s dead. Those lepers? They’re also dead. All of them! The paralytic? He’s dead. They’re all dead.

So if every person Jesus healed – including Lazarus – eventually died, then what is the point of these miracles? The interpretive key can be found in the tears of Jesus.  Jesus – as God – loses a friend. Jesus weeps. 

Right now we are grieving the death of Fr. Richard House. But I would also suspect many of us are still grieving the loss of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child or a grandchild.

The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis, writing after the death of his wife, described what it was like to go to God “…when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed shut in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting inside. After that, silence.” 

Then C.S. Lewis went on to add, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

Against our great human loss, these tears of Jesus remind us that God is with us now. He feels our pain now. He shares our sorrow now. He sees our tears now. We see this in the tears Jesus sheds. We see this human side of Jesus in the mutual comfort and support his friends give him and share with each other.

Yes, in the face of human suffering and loss we naturally ask “why” and, like C.S. Lewis, we suspect the absence of a God who seems bolted behind a locked door.  Yet the Gospel also reminds us that Jesus, himself – like us in all things but sin – finds himself locked behind the door of grief.  Indeed we see God’s grief because in the face of Jesus we see God. Hence his words of testimony: “I am the resurrection and life.”  

This is what God does in you. You – here tonight – with your desire to have God answer your prayers – You are actually God’s answer to the prayers of others including Fr. Richard House’s prayers for you. “I am the resurrection and the life!”  Those words describe you! Your love, your compassion, your concern, your patience ARE the answer. You are God’s answer to prayer. Your compassion conquers death and points to the first light of the resurrection that even now you may not see. You answer the ancient yearnings marked on the tombs of those along the Appian Way. Thank you for living your faith even with the sting of death. Thank you for being the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – the foretaste of the resurrection yet to come! 

Peace be with you!