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Pastor's Letter 20200329 - 29 March 2020 - Christ, the Resurrection and the Life


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March 29, 2020

5th Sunday of Lent

A Message from Father Michael

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Today’s Theme:  “Christ, the Resurrection and the Life”

 Scripture Note

In the earliest Old Testament writings there was no expression of a belief in life after death.  But around the time of the exile (ca. 6thcentury B.C.,) ancient Scripture began to give a vague shadow of the idea of a God Who could raise the dead (Ezekiel 37: 1-18—today’s First Reading.)  By the 2ndcentury, B.C., this concept had blossomed into a belief among some Jews that God would grant eternal life to the righteous (Daniel 12:2-3; 2 Maccabees 7:9.)   By the 1stcentury, A.D., we read that Jesus, Himself, promised Martha: “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:1-45—today’s Gospel Reading.)  Martha, in turn, professed her faith in the resurrection of Lazarus on the last day.  (But Jesus led Martha beyond an acceptance in the hope of life after death to the reality of Himself, as the source of Lazarus’ new life.)  

 John paints Lazarus as a symbol of us all—who are dead to God and bound by sin.  His main aim is to elicit faith in Jesus and show its effects.  The fact that Lazarus had been dead for four days serves to underline the point the evangelist makes, namely, that Jesus is the Master of life and death.  Like Lazarus, we are all loved by Jesus, Who weeps over our suffering and calls us by name to “come out of our tombs” of unbelief, self-centeredness and futility. To those who saw, or heard of it, the raising of Lazarus was a sing of Jesus’ power over death.  (But, of course, Jesus also knew that Lazarus would die again [physically,] at some point in the future.)  

 Paul reminds us that the power to raise from the dead resides in “the Spirit of God” (i.e. Ezekiel, above;) and through Jesus’ resurrection from death, that same Spirit now lives in us (Romans 8:8-11—today’s Second Reading.) 

An Invincible Spring

Today’s Gospel scene is one with which we are all too familiar—the sudden death of a loved one, and people weeping at the loss.  Of all the causes of tears, death is the chief culprit.  

Death is like winter—only worse.  Despite appearances, nature’s winter isn’t permanent.  Life doesn’t disappear, it simply goes “underground.”  The outward dies, but no so the core.  But in the winter of death, life seems to cease, altogether.  Death seems to rob us of everything we love. It is natural, right and healthy for people to grieve when death robs them of a friend or a family member.  But our faith teaches us that as Jesus didn’t abandon His friends Martha and Mary, at the death of Lazarus, He will not abandon us in our time of loss.  He was so overcome with sorrow, as John relates, He broke down, weeping with heartfelt sympathy and solidarity.  It wasn’t easy for them to believe in life after death, as all the evidence was against it.  Nevertheless, we read they believed.  Faith isn’t easy for us, either.  Death constitutes our most severe test.  

Jesus’ proclamation, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is one of the greatest statements in the Gospel.  By this we know Jesus holds the key to life and death. Though He faced His own “winter of death,” by rising from the dead in our mortal humanity, He broke the power of death, forever.  Entering the dark kingdom of death, He emerged victorious.  Thereby, He became our “pathfinder,” and caused a new and invincible spring to dawn for all who believe in Him.  

I remember life in winter—where pervasive sadness at the passing loveliness of summer and autumn fell on most people.  (Heavy snows that followed in my native Nebraska had a dampening effect as well….)  During winter, it’s especially difficult for youngsters to believe in spring, as they are assaulted by the season’s bitter cold and wind.  Eventually, however, spring revitalizes and elevates the spirit, and removes the sting.  So it’s reasonable to be sad when the winter of death claims the life of someone we love, and inevitably causing us to think of our own death.  Nevertheless, we should not be overwhelmed.  We are sustained by our faith in Jesus, the “Resurrection and the Life,” which takes the sting out of death for us.  

 Eternal life is not something that begins when we die.  Rather, it begins the moment we hear the voice of Jesus and believe in Him. Like Martha, we sometimes push God’s power so far into the future that we cannot acknowledge His power at work in us here, and now.  He has given us life now, through Baptism, and also a life of faith, just as clearly as He raised Lazarus from the tomb.  

 We Are Not Alone

Everybody needs friends—even Jesus.  The house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary was open to Him even when others were not.  Our Gospel story today suggests that when Lazarus got sick, it was only natural that the girls to appealed to their friend Jesus for help.  They sent an urgent message designed to appeal to His heart, saying simply, “The man whom You love is ill.”  They hoped He would drop everything and come, immediately.  We are not given a real explanation why Jesus delayed His return, but we imagine it must have been heart wrenching for the sisters.  While they watched the life drain from their brother, the One they hoped could save him wasn’t there. 

 When Lazarus died, we are told they were desolate, Mary being the most inconsolable—so much so, she wouldn’t leave the house.  (I understand this firsthand, because, when my mother died suddenly, in 1975, my father confined himself to the house for days.)   Then, when Jesus finally came, they suggested He could have prevented Lazarus’ death.  They told Him, “Lord, had you been here, Lazarus would not have died.” 

 The desolation caused by the death of a loved one is something all of us have faced.  When it happens, we can’t help thinking that God may not really love us.  We might feel abandoned by God, and feel He has left us alone.  But we really must try to imitate Martha, who is presented to us as a model of faith.  She ran to the Lord in her hour of grief, and poured out her sorrow to Him.  When He challenged her to believe, she made a wonderful profession of faith: “I believe you are the Christ; the Son of God; the One Who has come into the world.”

 At such times we must turn our thoughts to God.  We must go on meditatively praying; go on believing. Neither a good life, nor a close “relationship” with God will necessarily save a person from a tragic death. In the face of our pain all we can do is commend ourselves to God and abandon ourselves to His care.   When we suffer, it seems as though God is absent.  But when we pray, we realize God is not absent, but He is present in our suffering—with us as our hope in adversity; as our strength in weakness. This is what is meant for us in the present moment, and is so important about His statement: “I am the life!”  As in the story, Jesus is our faithful friend.  Even in death we are not beyond His reach.  His assistance will be ours in our time of need, just as He was there for Martha and Mary.  He can share our sorrow and give us hope, announcing eternal life for those who believe in Him. In Jesus, we are also surrounded by the love and support of our community. He understands the anguish caused by death, because He experienced it, for Himself, in the loss of Lazarus.  Finally, He overcame death, conquering it not by avoidance, but by personally undergoing it, as each one of us must do.   

May God Richly Bless You!

“Nothing is impossible, if you have faith.”  (Matthew 17:20) 

Just a Closer Walk With Thee.docx

Just a Closer Walk With Thee.mp3

 

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Father Michael,

It was good to see you briefly the other day.  Hope you and Danielle are well.  I enjoyed the message today of "The Resurrection and the Life."  It was very appropriate for the situation we face today.  Thank you

 

I especially enjoyed that rendition of "Just A Closer Walk with Thee."  My mother and I use to sing it together when I was younger.  It definitely was not that version.  I really liked it.  Bet it would be fun to sing.  I have saved it so I can listen to it again.  I have one for you to hear.  It is call, "We Are Not Alone."  Someone sent it to me this week: sung by a Moran or Mennonite group.  The choir at Cherry Log Christian Church sang it at Easter one year when I sang with them. I will do my best to send it. 

Stay well.

Love, Light and Laughter,

John and Russell

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