I Am the Resurrection and the Life

If the links don’t work for you, here is Imogen’s video presentation Misty, Breaking Through, Alive and the Bubble church worksheet.

For those of you who prefer Lego to flowers, why not have a go at making the empty tomb where Lazarus came out of and spelling out ‘He is Risen’ with as many bricks as you can manage.

Todays reading is John 11:17-44Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

We continue with our series on the ‘I am’ saying of Jesus in the Bible—one which is particularly well known—often read by Christian ministers at funerals, so therefore perhaps familiar to more people. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, says Jesus. ‘Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’

I wonder what goes through your mind when you hear those words.

There is an almost universal belief in some sort of life after death, but thinking ranges far and wide about what form this might take. My wife and I have watched some fascinating documentaries recently about discoveries by Egyptologists, of new tombs in Egypt and also Sudan, discovering more about the history of the pharaohs and their time. As many of you know, ancient Egyptians thought life after death meant moving into a parallel existence for which you would need useful things like food, cooking utensils, weapons etc. That’s why the tombs were full of these things. Other beliefs include reincarnation. Ancient Greek culture believed in immortality, but an afterlife which just consisted of some sort of ethereal shadowy world where the soul rested.

My late father was a faithful church goer most of his life. He was also, like so many people, constantly searching. Because I’m a vicar, I’m asked big questions lots… e.g. Where do we go when we die? Is there really life after death? Dad used to ask me these questions. This is the place where often our faith can falter.

Well today, I pray that God’s Holy Spirit will fill you with a fresh and joyful confidence in what Jesus is saying—to you. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, and he speaks of a physical resurrection.

Our reading is part of one of the most powerful and moving passages in the Bible. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are close friends of Jesus. So if you read the verses before the passage today, you would notice an apparently curious initial response from Jesus to the news that someone he loved was ill. John makes clear Jesus’ love for this family. Yet having heard this news he continues to stay in Jerusalem for another couple of days. Why did Jesus delay? The narrative here shows a misunderstanding from his disciples about his response—a misunderstanding repeated by Martha and Mary when Jesus finally arrived at their home. But you and I have the benefit of being able to read the whole account, to see that there is something else going on.

When Jesus heard of Lazarus’ illness, he said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’

Those listening understandably took this to mean that Lazarus may recover. But Jesus meant so much more.

God doesn’t play games with us. But God’s timing is not our timing, however much we strive to control things. Jesus is someone whose whole life is a life in communion with the Father, who prayed constantly, whose whole purpose, is the glory of God. Even if Jesus had left immediately, Lazarus would have already been dead for two days. Jesus is not lacking compassion here. His timing is regulated by the will of God the Father, and not by any requests, even of family and friends. In going to this family when he does, Jesus accomplishes two vital things. He is powerfully demonstrating that he is the resurrection and the life, and he is also powerfully establishing the faith both of his disciples and also this family who he loves.

Early in our passage, when Jesus had now arrived, Martha says to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ The regret of a missed opportunity—but also followed by a degree of faith for the future, when she says, ‘But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask.’

This feels like a familiar position. I hear it in myself sometimes—a sort of ‘qualified faith’, which says, ‘I wish you’d done things differently in the past God, but hey ho, I trust you can correct it all in the future.’ And Mary asks the same question later, before Jesus with deep compassion and love for the distress of his friends and those around him, wept with them and calls out Lazarus from the tomb.

Jesus Christ gives us certainty. But this is not just certainly for the future. It is certainty for the present too.

So, back to that great saying—and what it means for you and me.

As Jesus arrives and Lazarus has been dead for four days, Martha says ‘If only you’d been here, my brother would not have died.’ If only… If only this, if only that—if only I could turn the clock back things would be different…

Time travel these days is very popular in literature and movies, as we nostalgically imagine that the present might be different—if only we could have changed the past.

Jesus’ reply and their short conversation, which ends in the famous words, has Jesus changing this nostalgic regret around, as he invites Martha to look to the future. Then having done this, he invites her to think about what it would be like—if the future was suddenly brought into the present time.

Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again’ (as he points to the future). And Martha willingly agrees, in accordance with Jewish belief in the vision in the Book of Isaiah of a new heaven and a new earth, within which God’s people would be given new bodies and share in this. But her response to Jesus sounds rather downbeat—agreeing that her brother will share in this new life in the future but what about now…

Jesus then changes things—for all of us, for all time, when he brings that future hope bursting into the present.

‘I AM… the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’

The new creation and resurrection has come forward to the present time, into all the confusion and muddle of our lives. Resurrection isn’t just some sort of academic doctrine. Resurrection is a person—and he’s standing in front of Martha.

Jesus says that anyone who believes in him—will never die. Ordinary mortal life does indeed ebb away. The life that Jesus gives begins with him and continues through what we know as death, to life eternal with God.

When Jesus asks Martha, ‘Do you believe this’, he is not asking if she believes he is about to raise her brother from the dead. Jesus is asking Martha is she can go beyond this belief in some future hope of the last days, to a personal trust and faith in the physical man standing in front of her, as the resurrection and the life—the only one who can grant eternal life and the promise of the transformation of resurrection.

Jesus says, ‘I—the physical person standing in front of you, am the resurrection and the life.’ Believe in me, know and trust in me, now, and you will know resurrection life now and through death into all eternity.

To show the glory of God, Jesus does indeed raise Lazarus from the dead, and we also have of course, the ultimate demonstration of this in the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus himself.

The Christian understanding of who we are is expressed in our bodies—the outward form of an inner reality. To live with Christ in heaven cannot be to live less than we are on earth, which is bodiless. The difference is that when that time comes, we are perfected. Death is defeated.

What are you looking for? Peace? Certainty? The key to it all, back 2000 years ago with Martha, Mary ad Lazarus as with you and me today, is faith, faith in Jesus Christ. Someone once said, ‘The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.’

May I encourage you, today, now, to take that leap of faith, maybe for the first time or perhaps again, and open your lives to Jesus? There is no need for our faith to falter when we think of death. Jesus says to you and me, ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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