Sunday, April 27, 2014

2 Easter

Low Sunday
April 27, 2014
John 20.19-31

+ Just last night, I got back from a very enjoyable couple of days in Minneapolis. I met with a couple I am marrying this summer.  And, of course,  visiting my friend, Greg, his wife, Lisa and their daughters.

Poor Greg. I use him quite often here as an example.  Luckily, I know he doesn’t read these sermons on my blog. But no fear: I’ve been honest with him that I actually use him in my sermons as my “token atheist.”

Well, this past week end, I realized something about Greg’s atheism. I think his atheism is so much more solid and set, than my faith in God. By that I mean: I don’t think he has ever doubted his atheism. I don’t think there has been a moment in his adult life when he may have thought: You know, there actually might be a God.

I wish I could have a faith like Greg’s atheism. I wish my faith was not pocked and spotted with doubt. But, to be brutally honest,  it is sometimes.

I do doubt sometimes. We all do. Yes, we struggle with these issues of belief in our lives.

Let’s face it, we don’t get the opportunities that Thomas had in this morning’s Gospel. Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to know him, refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus.  

To be fair, I’d be the same way. If someone I knew and cared died and suddenly everyone is telling me that person is now actually alive, I would doubt that. And if I knew that person had died and was now standing in front of me, I would still be skeptical. Skeptical of my sanity, if nothing else.

So, it wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to Thomas in the flesh—Jesus, was no ghost after all.  He stood there in the flesh—wounds and all.  Only when Thomas  had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe. That’s wonderful for Thomas.

But, the fact is, for the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy.  Jesus is probably not going to appear before us—in the flesh.  At least, not on this side of the Veil—not while we are still alive. And we are not going to have the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.

Now, I know this might sound a bit simplistic, but doubt is actually somewhat easy. It’s easy to doubt. But faith, now that’s something. It’s not easy to have faith.

I don’t have to tell anyone here this morning about faith. We all know how hard it really is. It takes work and discipline.  More likely than not, we can all think of at least one or two things we’d rather be doing this Sunday morning than being in church. We made a choice to come here this morning, and worship a God we cannot see, not touch.

A strong relationship with God takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work.  It takes discipline. It takes concentrated effort. Being a believer in God does not just involve being nice on occasion and smiling.  It means living one’s life fully and completely as a believer.

And being a Christian is even more refined than just a believer in God.  As Christians we are committed to follow Jesus.  And more than just that, we are also called essentially to be the Presence of Christ in this world.  It means being a reflection of Christ’s love and goodness in the world.

The key words here are “love” and “goodness.” More often than not, I will be asked: So what does one have to do to be a Christian?  And I always say: “Jesus said, Love God and love others as you love yourself.”  And the response to that is usually, “Well, that sounds easy enough.”

The fact is, it isn’t that easy.  It isn’t easy at all.  Loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves isn’t easy at all.  Loving a God who is not visible—who is not standing before us, in flesh and blood, is not easy. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone here this morning: loving others—those people who share our world with us—as ourselves, is not easy by any means.

To love those people who bug us and irritate us and are abusive to us is hard.  It is REALLY hard. It takes constant work to love.  It takes constant discipline to love as Jesus loved.  It takes constant work to love ourselves—and most of us don’t love ourselves—and it takes constant work to love others.

But look at the benefits. Look at what our world would be like if we loved God, if we loved ourselves and loved others as ourselves.  It was be ideal.  It would be exactly what Jesus told us it would be like.

But to do this—to bring this about—to love God, to love ourselves, to love each other, is hard work.  Some would say it’s impossible work.  Certainly, it seems overwhelming.

 It seems too much for us to even consider in times when the world seems out of control, when hatred and violence seem to reign supreme. It is difficult to be the conduit of the Light and Presence—the love and goodness—of Christ when others are shouting in hatred in the same name of Jesus.  It seems impossible when we realize that what we are asked to do is love and serve even those other Christians who are acting so un-Christian. It is hard to truly respect the worth and dignity of all people and their religions and to recognize in them that they too are strivers after God, they too are strugglers in their relationship with God and that the God we are all striving after is the same God who, for us, remains cloaked and invisible.

 Now, for Thomas, he saw.  He touched.  It was all clear to him.  But we don’t get that chance.

 “Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning.

 We are those blessed ones.  All of us.  Of course our belief—our faith—doesn’t have to be perfect. We will still always doubt. Will still always question. And that’s all right.  

 
We are still the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel.  Blessed are you all.  You believe—or strive to believe—but don’t see. Seen or unseen, we know God is there.  And our faith is not based on seeing God here.  Because we have faith that one day, yes, we will see God. We will, on some glorious day, run to God and see God face to face.  And in that moment, our faith will be fulfilled.


Blessed are we who believe but don’t see now. The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours.

 

 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter

April 20, 2014


 + I don’t know about you, but…I LOVE Easter!

Some people like Christmas.  For them, that’s the real magical time. But for me, it’s all about Easter.  

This is what it is all about. There is nothing, in my opinion,  like gathering together here on this glorious morning, in all of this Easter glory.

I just love Easter! I love everything about it. The light. The joy we are feeling this morning. That sense of renewal, after a long, hard winter.

An Easter morning like this reminds me that there is more to this world than we thought. There is a glory that we sometimes catch a glimpse of.  There is an eternity and it is good.

There’s an old saying, “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die, it starts now.” I love that. Resurrection is a kind reality that we, as Christians, are called to live into.  

And it’s not just something we believe happens after we die.  We are called to live into that Resurrection NOW.  Jesus calls us to live into that joy and that beautiful life NOW.

The alleluias we sing this morning are not for some beautiful moment after we have breathed our last.  Those alleluias are for now, as well as for later.  Those alleluias, those joyful sounds we make, this Light we celebrate, is a Light that shines now—in this moment.

We are alive in Christ now.  We have already died with Christ when we were baptized.  And in those waters, we were raised with him, just as he is raised today and always. Easter and our whole lives as Christians is all about this fact.  Our lives should be joyful because of this fact—this reality—that Jesus died and is risen and by doing so has destroyed our deaths. This is what it means to be a Christian.

Easter is about this radical new life.  It is about living in another dimension that, to our rational minds, makes no sense.  Even, sometimes, with us, it doesn’t make sense.  It almost seems too good to be true.  And that’s all right to have that kind of doubt.

It doesn’t make sense that we celebrating an event that seems so wonderful that it couldn’t possibly be true.  It doesn’t make sense that this event that seems so super-human can bring such joy in our lives.

Today we are commemorating the fact that Jesus, who was tortured, was murdered, was buried in a tomb and is now…alive.  Fully and completely alive.  Alive in a real body. Alive in a body that only a day before was lying, broken and dead, in a tomb. And…as if that wasn’t enough, we are also celebrating the fact that we truly believe we too are experiencing this too.  Experiencing this—in the present tense.

Yes, we too will one day die.  But, THAT doesn’t matter.  What matters is that that death is already defeated.  We are already living, by our very lives, by our baptisms and our faith in Jesus, into the eternal, unending, glorious life that Jesus lives in this moment.

Yes, our bodies MAY be broken.  Yes, our bodies WILL die.  But we will live because Jesus lives. What we are celebrating this morning is reality.  What we are celebrating this morning is that this resurrected life which we are witnessing in Jesus is really the only reality.  And death is really only an illusion.  We aren’t deceiving ourselves.  

We’re not a na├»ve people who think everything is just peachy keen and wonderful. We know what darkness is.  We know what death is.  We know what suffering and pain are.  For those of us who have losses in our lives, we know the depths of pain and despair we can all go to in our lives.

But, it is this Light of Christ, that has come to us in the darkness of our pain and despair, this glorious morning, much as the Sun breaks into the darkness.  What Easter reminds us, again and again, is that darkness is not eternal.  It will not ultimately win out.

Light will always win.  This Light will always succeed.  This Light will be eternal.

I am honest when I say that part of me wishes I could always live in this Easter Light.  I wish I could always feel this joy that I feel this morning.  But the fact is, this Light will lose its luster faster than I even want to admit.  This joy will fade too.

But I do believe that whatever heaven is—and none of us knows for certain what it will be like—I have no doubt that it is very similar this the joy we feel this morning.  I believe with all that is in me that it is very much like the experience of this Light that we are celebrating this morning—an unending Easter.

And if that is what Heaven is, then it is a joy that will not die, and it is a Light that will not fade and grow dim. And if that’s all I know of heaven, then that is enough for me.

The fact is, Easter doesn’t end when the sun sets today Easter is what we carry within us as Christians ALL the time. Easter is living out the Resurrection by our very presence.  We are, each of us, carrying within us the Light of Christ we celebrate this morning and always.  All the time.  It is here, in our very souls, in our very bodies, in our very selves.

With that Light burning within us, being reflected in what we do and say, in the love we show to God and to each other, what more can we say on this glorious, glorious morning?  What more can we say when God’s glorious, all-loving, resurrected realty breaks through to us in glorious light and transforms us;

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday


Descent

“…he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.”
                                    1 Peter 3.19

(Rilke)

Seduced, finally, he fled
that pale, thin body and all the suffering
it endured. Up, he went. He put it all
behind him. Even the darkness was afraid
and hurled winged bats at that
blood-drained body lying there.
At night, dread surged
in the veins and membranes of their wings,
wings that fluttered
and twitched in remembrance
of that pain which lies
with the body—both of them
dead and cold.
Even the very air darkened
and felt sorrow for this flesh.

In the night, the dark animals—
driven by the moon—
wailed
and went stupid with grief.

Maybe his freed spirit
meant to wander about
in the bare-lit countryside,
moving and doing as shadows do
at night. What he suffered
was enough. What
moved in the night—
these shadowy figures—
were gentle to him
and he, in turn, longed
to embrace them
as a room embraces mourners.

Beneath it all, the earth—
thirsty after draining his wounds—
cracked and split open.
In the abyss, a voice
cried out. No stranger
to anguish, he heard
and understood
that hell howled for him
to finish what
began with his first
movement of pain, hoping
their pain would end
when his finally did.

Still, the fear of pain reigned
for the moment. Down, his spirit
plummeted, weighed
by exhaustion. And there,
he walked impatiently
through the rain of amazed expressions
from those sighing shadows
who stood about, shocked.
Among them, he set
his gaze upon that first man of the earth.
He ran! his stride taking him
deeper. There, he was swallowed
by the darkness. He then reappeared,
only to be swallowed once more,
this time into the wreckage of the deepest places.
Finally, up he went, up
over the voices pouring out
as he climbed. With them,
hands grasped in his hands, through
the sounds and sights, he rose
toward that sturdy place
of his lying down. There,
not breathing or blinking,
he stood up without support,
owning all anguish. Silent.    

Copyright © 2014 by Jamie Parsley (from That Word

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; Psalm 22; John 13.1-17,31b-35

+ I have to admit—and I hate to admit it—but, I haven’t been very spiritual this Holy Week so far. In fact, I’ve found myself a bit distracted.  Distracted by physical things, rather than spiritual things. Of course, I’ve still been praying the Offices and being present spiritually for our Maundy Thursday  Lots of physical things have been going on here at St. Stephen’s of course.

Of course, we have our new Tenebrae hearse that we introduced last evening, which took some planning.  Our remodeling of the undercroft bathroom, of course, continues and may possibly be done by Easter. Our Memorial Garden is coming along and the planning of it is always kind of in my mind right now.

And, in my own life, I have been working very diligently on the final manuscript of my book of short stories, which I’m planning on getting to my publisher by the end of this month. This book is no 40 page collection of poetry. Working with 300 pages of manuscript—and prose manuscript nonetheless—has been daunting.

So,  yes, I’ve found myself distracted by these physical things. Not that physical things are bad.  They certainly are important.

This evening of Maundy Thursday, after all, is all about the physical.  Tonight, we are experiencing physical signs of God’s presence. We are coming forward to be fed with Body and Blood of Christ.  In fact, these next few days are also about that merging between the physical and spiritual—about, truly, Incarnation.

This physical Body of Jesus will tomorrow be tortured and then will be nailed to the Cross.  It will die and be laid in a dark tomb.  On Saturday, it will be there, laid out, broken and destroyed.  But on Sunday, that physical Body will rise out of that darkness.  It will rise out of that destroyed state.  It will come forth from that broken disgrace and will be fully and completely alive and present.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  For now, we are here, in this moment.  We are here on Maundy Thursday, experiencing the physical and spiritual life that we have been given.  We are preparing ourselves to remember that Last Supper, as we do every Sunday.  I think we often take for granted what we do at this altar each Sunday and every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.  I know I do occasionally.

But what we celebrate together here is not something we should take for granted.  What we celebrate here is truly an incredible and beautiful thing.  It is more than just some memorial Jesus left us.  It is more than just nice, quaint practice of the Church. It is an unveiling. For a moment, the veil is lifted between this world and the next.  For a moment, as we celebrate this very tangible gift of Jesus in our lives, we get to glimpse the other side of the veil.  We get to see the larger worship that is going on throughout time and eternity.

We gather here not only with each, but with all the Church—with those of us here, present in our bodies, and those who have gone before.  In this one moment, as our liturgy reminds us, we are gathered with all the saints, and with all the angels and archangels, who now sing before God in this moment. But it’s more than just a mystical experience as well.  It also lifts the veil that exists right now, right here between each of us.  

And we do live in a veiled world.  We live in a world in which we ignore each other, in which we really and truly don’t SEE each other.   Here, at the Eucharist, that veil too is lifted.

Tonight, we are all experiencing humbling experiences.  Tonight, we, the followers of Jesus, are witnessing Jesus truly humble himself.  He humbles himself in the washing of feet.  And he humbles himself in his giving himself to us in the basic element of bread and wine. And he invites us, as well to enter into this humbling experience—this experience in which we need to encounter each other in this most basic of acts.

He essentially invites us to enter into what Gallagher calls “the kingdom of the living bread.” What we experience here with each other at this altar in Holy Communion is truly a bridge of sorts.  We find that the divine is present to us in some thing we can touch and taste and in those gathered with us here.  

And more than just some spiritual practice we do, we do this not just with our spirits, but with our very bodies as well. We do it with our very physical presence.  And, in doing so, we realize that we are catching a glimpse of the resurrected state that we will so glorious celebrate in just a few days time on Sunday morning.

What comes to us at this altar, is truly the manna come down from heaven.  It is a reminder to us of the sacrifice of that Lamb of God, which we found prefigured in our reading from Exodus. During the Eucharist, whenever I raise the broken bread, I  say,

“This is the Lamb of God. This is the one who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we are invited to this supper.”

This not just quaint language we use in the church.  This not just poetic symbolism.  This is the foundation of our belief.

What we celebrate at this altar is not just some archaic sacrament, left over from some forgotten chapter of history. Maybe it is to the outside world.  If someone who has no idea what Communion was saw us tonight they would definitely be confused.  Certainly the bit of bread we receive and the little taste of wine is not enough to sustain us.  It is not going to quench our physical thirst or sure our growling stomachs.  By outward standards what we do at this altar is frivolous.

Still, for us, who celebrate this mystery together, we do leave here filled.  We do leave here spiritually fed.  We do come away with a sense that Jesus is present and that he goes with us—each of us—all of us—from this altar and from this church, into the world.

So, let us come forward to this altar tonight, with each other.  Let us come forward to this kingdom of the living bread.  Let us also come forward on this night in which Jesus instituted this incredible sacrament in which he remains with us, on this night in which he humbled himself and invites us, as well, to humble ourselves.  Let us humble ourselves and be fed.  And let us go from here, humbled and fed, to feed others and to be the Presence of Jesus to others.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday

April 13, 2014

+ I have to admit—and I don’t like admitting this: I dread Holy Week.

Now, I know probably your first reaction to my saying that is that you think I am dreading all the extra work I’m going to have to be doing this coming week. Actually, no. I don’t dread that work at all. I’m a church nerd. I like doing church services and doing the work I was hired to do.

I dread this coming week for one big reason: I dread the emotional aspects of this coming week. I think the biggest toll of this week on me is the emotional toll.

How can it not, after all? We, as followers of Jesus, as people who love Jesus and balance our lives on his life and teachings and guidance, are emotionally tied to this man. This Jesus is not just mythical character to us.  He is a friend, a mentor, a very vital and essential part of our lives as Christians. He is our God.


So, to have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of this coming week is hard on us.   And today, we get the whole rollercoaster in our liturgy and in our two Gospel readings.  Here we find a microcosm of the roller coaster ride of what is to come this week.  What begins this morning as joyful ends with jeers. The Jesus who enters Jerusalem is the Jesus who has done some incredible things in the past few weeks, at least in the very long Gospel readings we’ve been hearing.

 Three weeks ago, he turned the Samaritan woman’s life around.  Two weeks ago, he gave sight to a man born blind. Last week, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.

 
This day’s events begin with us, his followers, singing our praises to Jesus, waving palm branches in victory.  He is, at the beginning of this week, popular and accepted.  For this moment, everyone seems to love him. But then…within moments, a darkness falls.  Something terrible and horrible goes wrong.

 What begin with rays of sunshine, ends in gathering dark storm clouds.  Those joyful, exuberant shouts turn into cries of anger and accusation.  Those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem have fled.  They have simply disappeared from sight.  And in their place an angry crowd shouts and demands the death of Jesus.

 Even his followers, those who almost arrogantly proclaimed themselves followers of Jesus, have disappeared.  Their arrogance has turned to embarrassment and shame.  Even the Samaritan woman, whose life he turned around, the man born blind, and his friend Lazarus have disappeared and are nowhere in sight.  Jesus, whom we encounter at the beginning of this liturgy this morning surrounded by crowds of cheering, joyful people, is by the end of it, alone, abandoned, deserted—shunned.  Everyone he considered a friend—everyone he would have trusted—has left him.

 And in his aloneness, he knows how they feel about him.  He knows that he is an embarrassment to them.  He knows that, in their eyes, he is a failure.

 Throughout this coming Holy Week, the emotional roller coaster ride will get more intense.  On Maundy Thursday the celebratory meal of Passover will turn into a dark and lonely night of betrayal. Jesus will descend to his lowest point after he washes the feet of his disciples.  On Good Friday will be a day of more betrayal, of torture and of an agonizing violent death in the burning hot sun.  Saturday will be a day of keeping watch at the grave that would, under normal circumstances, be quickly forgotten.  Through our liturgies, we are able to walk with Jesus on this painful journey and to experience the emotional ups and downs of all that will happen.

 And next Sunday, the roller coaster will again be at its most intense, its greatest moment.  Next Sunday at this time, we will be rejoicing.  Next Sunday, we will be rejoicing with all the choirs of angels and archangels who sing their unending hymns of praise to him.  We will be rejoicing in the fact that all the humiliation experienced this week has turned to joy, all desertion has turned to rewarding and wonderful friendship, all sadness to gladness, and death—horrible, ugly death—will be turned to full, complete and unending life.

 So, as we journey through the dark half of our liturgy today, as we trek alongside Jesus during this Holy Week of betrayal, torture and death, let us keep our eyes focused on the Light that is about to dawn in the darkness of our lives.  Let us move forward toward that Light.  Even though there might be sadness on our faces now, let the joy in our hearts prompt us forward along the path we dread to take.  And, next week at this time, when we gather here again, we will be basking in the Christ’s incredible Light—a Light that triumphs over the darkness of not only his death, but ours as well.


 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

5 Lent

April 6, 2014

 Ezekiel 37.1-14; John 11.1-45

+ I picked up an interesting book a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those books I thought, when I bought it, would be great Lenten reading.  The book is Heavenly Bodies; Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs.  It’s a book of
photographs of skeletons—yes, skeletons— from the Roman Catacombs that were, in the Middle Ages, distributed about Europe as relics of the saints and early Christian martyrs. More often than not, these relics were placed in glass cases in churches, dressed in luxurious clothing and posed in various lifelike displays.

It’s the kind of book that, if you saw it, you would no doubt say: “This is a book Fr. Jamie would LOVE!” I certainly thought that when I first saw the book. What great Lenten reading, I thought!  I got the book, I sat down with it one night, and……it creeped me out.

Looking at photograph after photograph of jewel-bedecked skeletons—full, completely skeletons, often dressed in gold-encrusted clothing, with crowns and masks made of jewels, I will say, I actually got the creepy-crawlies. I actually had to put the book aside, mostly unread.

For the first and only time in my life—and I’m almost ashamed to admit this—I found myself actually agreeing with, of all people, (sigh) John Calvin. Calvin, of course, found such displays horrific. He believed that displaying human remains in any way was a travesty.  He believed, as we do, certainly our Book of Common Prayer affirms this, that “all flesh is dust, [and] to dust it must return…”

“To attempt the resurrection of the dead ‘before the appointed time by raising them in pomp and state’ was an offense.” (p. 26 Heavenly Bodies)

And I will say there was something kind of offensive about seeing these saints bones propped up in such a way.

I know. John Calvin and Jamie Parsley. Those are two names you probably never thought you would hear in one sentence. Certainly I never did.

But Calvin was, of course, very against the displays of saints’ relics. And I must say, so am I.  At least like they were in this book.

Those relics in that book, meant to inspire people to have faith in the Communion of Saints and the sanctity of the human body, only managed to shock me. They jarred me in an unpleasant way.   There is something disconcerting and downright frightening about
looking into the empty sockets of human skull.

Certainly, two of our readings today are also sobering experiences that jar us and make us sit up and take notice. The first jarring reading, of course, is Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones.  It’s a great story in this Lenten season and it speak loudly to the theme that I’ve used this Lent on our broken selves being made whole.

The second reading that jars us is the raising of Lazarus. Both are filled with images of the dead being raised.  The story that probably speaks most deeply to us though is the story of Lazarus.  And this story takes on much deeper meaning when we examine it closely and place it within the context of its time.

One of our first clues that the something is different in this story is that, when Jesus arrives at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he is told that Lazarus has been dead four days. This clue of “four days” is important.

First of all, from simply a practical point, we can all imagine what condition Lazarus’s body would be in after four days.  This body would not have been embalmed like we understand embalming today in the United States.  There was no refrigeration, no sealed metal caskets, no reconstructive cosmetics for the body of Lazarus.  In the heat of that country, his body would, by the fourth day, be well into the beginning stages of decomposition.  There would be some major physical destruction occurring.

Second, according to Jewish understanding, when the soul left the body, a connection would still be maintained with that body for a period of three days. According to Jewish thinking of this time, the belief was the soul might be reunited with the body up to three days, but after that, because the body would not be recognizable to the departed soul because of decomposition, any reuniting would be impossible.  After those three days, the final separation from the body by the soul would have been complete.  The soul would truly be gone.  The body would truly be dead.

So, when Jesus came upon the tomb of Lazarus and tells them to roll the stone away, Martha says to him that there will be stench.  He was truly dead—dead physically and dead from the perspective of his soul being truly separated from his body.

So, when the tomb was opened for Jesus, he would be encountering what most of us would think was impossible.  Jesus not only reunited Lazarus’ spirit with his body, he also healed the physical destruction done to Lazarus’s body by decomposition.  It would have been truly amazing.

 And Jesus would truly have been proven to be more than just some magician, playing tricks on the people.  He wasn’t simply awakening someone who appeared to be dead, someone who might have actually been in a deep coma.  There was no doubt that Lazarus was truly dead and now, he was, once again alive.

Now, at first glance, both our reading from the Hebrew scriptures and our Gospel readings seem a bit morbid.  These are things we don’t want to think about.  

But the fact is, we are rapidly heading toward Holy Week.  Next week at this time, we will be celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  We will be hearing the joyful cries of the crowd as he rides forth. Within 11 days from now, we will hear those cries of joy turn into cries of jeering and accusation. And, within no time, we will be hearing cries of despair and mourning.

We, as Christians who follow Jesus, will be hearing about betrayal, torture, murder and death as Jesus journeys away from us into the cold dark shadow of death.  These images of death we encounter in today’s readings simply help nudge us in the direction of the events toward which we are racing.

During Holy Week, we too will be faced with images we might find disturbing.  Jesus will be betrayed and abandoned by his friends and loved ones.  He will be tortured, mocked and whipped.  He will be forced to carry the very instrument of his death to the place of his execution.  And there he will be murdered in a very gruesome way.  
Following that death, he will be buried in a tomb, much the same way his friend Lazarus was. But unlike Lazarus, what happens to Jesus will take place within the three days at that time required for a soul to make a final break from his body.

And this brings us back to the story of Lazarus.  We often make the mistake, when think about the story of Lazarus, that Lazarus was resurrected.  The fact is, he was not resurrected. In seminary, I had a professor who made very clear to us that Lazarus was not resurrected in our Gospel reading.  It was not resurrection because Lazarus would eventually die again. He was simply brought back to life. He was resuscitated, shall we say.

So, Lazarus truly did rise from the tomb in Bethany, but he was not resurrected there.  He went on to live a life somewhat similar to the life he lived before.  And eventually, he died again.

But Resurrection is, as we no doubt know, different.  Resurrection is rising from death into a life that does not end.  Resurrection is rising from all the things we encounter in our readings for today—dry bones, tombs, decomposition and death.  Resurrection is rising from our own broken selves into a wholeness that will never be taken away from us.  Resurrection is new bodies, a new understanding of everything, a new and unending life.  Resurrection, when it happens, cannot be undone.  It cannot be taken away.  Resurrection destroys the hold of death. Resurrection destroys death.

And the first person to be resurrected was not Lazarus.  The first person to be resurrected was, of course, Jesus.  His resurrection is important not simply because he was the first. His resurrection is important because it, in a real sense, destroys death once and for all.

Yes, we will all die.  Yes, we will go down into the grave, into that place of bones and ashes.  But, the resurrection of Jesus casts new light on the deaths we must die.  The resurrection of Jesus shows us that we will rise from the destruction of our bodies—and our lives—into a life like the life of the resurrected Jesus.  We will be raised into a life that never ends, a life in which “sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life eternal,” as we celebrate in the Burial Office of the Book of Common Prayer.

Because Jesus died and then trampled death, he took away eternal death.  Our bodies may die, but we will rise again with him into a new and awesome life.

So, as we move through these last days of Lent toward that long, painful week of Holy Week, we go forward knowing full well what await us on the other side of the Cross of Good Friday.  We go forward knowing that the glorious dawn of Easter awaits us.  And with it, the glory of resurrection and life everlasting awaits us as well.

So, let go forward.  Let us move toward Holy Week, rejoicing with the crowd.  And as the days darken and we grow weary with Jesus, let us keep focused on the Easter light that is just about to dawn on all of us.