2 April 2017
11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
In the beginning God spoke a Word, and the universe came to be. God’s utterance was like a shining light; the darkness could not overcome it, could not comprehend it.
That is the sense of John’s famous prologue. It reminds us of the first book of the Bible, Genesis: in the Beginning God said “Let there be light!” and a creative Word, a living Word went forth. But what was this light? It was not the light of the sun, which was not yet. It was not any light that could be seen, for there was no one to see it. It was unseen light.
And this takes us far into John’s gospel, the story of the Word of God’s becoming flesh and dwelling among us. For not everyone could see the light burning within Jesus; they could not see the unseen light, which was Jesus’ glory. They were the ones who, we hear, walked by daylight but stumbled at night “because the light [was] not in them.” Nor had they understanding. They could not perceive the meaning of Jesus’ words or his works—his signs (semeia), or symbols. They could not perceive them in their revelatory quality, as revealing different aspects of the divine Word. Only those who trusted, who believed, had the capacity to perceive what their meaning.
In recent weeks we have heard that the Word of God is like living bread and living water–our true food and drink. It is a light that gives sight to the blind.
And now we come to the raising of Lazarus. We are to understand that the Word of God raises us up to life. Those who hear it have the life of the new age. They rise up, like Lazarus, from their tombs.
This divine Word is also present through and in all things. The universe exists because it is spoken. It is sustained by a divine Word. God does not stop speaking; the history of the universe is always being written. What is this Word but the deep grammar of the universe? Its reason, its logic, which we cannot fully understand. It is the Meaning of life the universe and everything, as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had it.
All our worldly speech, all our chatter, our organising, our building, our rushing. What is all this speaking but a participation in the deeper and hidden meaning of things—the original Word, spoken before all?
To this mysterious Word we cling by trust. We live into it. We become available to God, so that the story of the universe can be written in us. Our own lives, with their joys and sorrows and very often their sheer ordinariness, can become a chapter of that great work. The Word of God can sound through us.
This last week I was reading a book about parish ministry in the UK. One priest tells of her experience with a woman, Blanche, who had suffered a stroke. She easily confused words, giving her language an unexpectedly creative edge. So for instance she declared: “they want me to eat the oak of the egg!” but she meant, of course, “the yoke of the egg.” It would be easy to see Blanche as defective, but actually, the author says, her humanity was “an icon of the Word.” Even in her impairment and her quirkiness, she was part of the divine “poetry”—and how gloriously!
Even illness is part of the story of God, and is redeemed, if we allow it to be. Jesus says: “this illness does not lead to death,” the sickness is not unto death. It is for God’s glory, that God might be glorified through it.
What does the raising of Lazarus mean for us?
It means that even in sickness and in death, the Word of God raises us up if we live into it by trust. We shall not die, but live, for our story will be written in the pages of the universe. Our lives will become signs. We ourselves can become part of the divine poetry.
I am reminded of something the Anglican liturgist Dom Gregory Dix said:
Death is a solemn and serious thing, even for those who are full of faith and are prepared to die. It should be a ritual act, an act of worship. (Dom Gregory Dix, The Sacramental Life, xxii)
So it will be for those who live into the Word by trust.
And at the sounding of that Holy Word, we shall rise up like Lazarus, alive. Come out! We shall live, yes with all our scars and wounds and limitations, but having overcome them all. For we ourselves will have become an utterance of God. That is the faith of the resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Let us not dwell in the world of chatter, of business-like speech, of rushing, and organising, or we shall miss the deeper meaning—the living Word in and through all.
You will not give me over to the power of death,
Nor suffer your faithful one to see the Pit.
You will show me the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy
And from your right hand flow delights for evermore. Ps. 16:10,11