The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s016g14   Lent 5   6/4/2014

‘Lazarus is dead’  John 11.14

Recently we were privileged to see Andrew Bovell's play ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ at the Court Theatre in Christchurch.   (1)   We have season tickets, lest we miss out on any of the fabulous productions there.   We never come away disappointed, and such was the case again.   Much of the play is about death - the death of the 7 year old at the hands of the child molester, and the subsequent suicide and death of his parents, leaving his sister to face life on her own.   The molester eventually commits suicide himself.  The sister of the toddler has a child by the son of the very molester who killed her brother, but her new love is killed in a car accident.   The molestation is a metaphor for the environmental degradation caused by society.   So much death, so much sadness, so many lives ruined.  I enjoy being sent some daily aphorisms (thanks Grady) and a recent one was:  “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” William Faulkner.   And the play - spanning three generations - was testimony to the truth of this.

I recall, at the height of the AIDS crisis, one of my colleagues quipped that life itself is a sexually transmitted terminal illness.

And yet there is much in life which is the very antithesis of death - and most frequently it is in our relationships with another, or with others.   Much of the death in the play is not about the actual passing of the various characters, but the resultant estrangement between children and parents, and between parents and children.   It is about the lost opportunities to say: ‘I love you’.   One of the themes of the play is ‘Let the dead look after the dead’.   For a play which begins with one of the central characters saying: ‘I don’t believe in God’ - the play has many religious themes.   One came away thinking that it presented the complexities of faith and existence in a far more real and compelling manner than many a church service.   And, of course, this is hardly the first time that we have left a play thinking the same thing.   And those words of Jesus come to mind: ‘Whoever is not against us is for us.’  (2)

Which leads me to ponder if these words of Jesus do not really mean: ‘Whoever is not against anyone is for us’.   If we are agin the world, agin secular humanism, agin scientific discovery, agin reasoning, agin people of other faiths and none, agin those who are not straight ‘like us’ - then we are agin Jesus.

Mary and I regularly ponder some of those ‘church’ words we dutifully say because the bible and prayer book use them, and a recent one is ‘justification’ and what this might mean.   It seems that we spread justification when we don’t demand others justify their being, their thoughts, beliefs, or intimacies.   We spread justification by not being agin others.   And I realise that this is why I am uncomfortable with the church taking political sides.   It is so easy to become fixated on opposing this or that, and while the dedication and the cause might indeed be commendable, it perpetuates the paradigm that the church is agin people and things.

It is clear that neither God nor the bible promise anyone will not die.   Even the select few whose passing seems to defy death - Enoch (3), Moses (4), Elijah (5) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (6) - might as well have died - for they are no more present to us because of the manner of their passing.

St Paul seems to think that salvation from death is not a literal promise - he writes: ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned - sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.   Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.   But the free gift is not like the trespass.   For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.’  (7)   Clearly he considers us to be free from death but it is obvious that this is a freedom from something other than physical death.   He ready admits that he himself will die - and indeed looks forward to it.  ‘I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.’   (8)

So perhaps the death we are saved from is the need to justify our being, our thoughts, our beliefs, our intimacies, and by extension that others are saved from the need to justify their being, their thoughts, their beliefs, their intimacies.  

For expecting others to have to continually justify their being to us is to deny them our humanity.  We are emotionally absent from the other, and inevitably find that they will become emotionally absent to us.    And if someone is emotionally absent that one might as well be dead.

So when we quote the bible or tradition, or argue logically against someone else - their dignity, reasoning, beliefs or intimacies - we are dead to the other, and we contribute to the death of that other.

When a denomination quotes bible or tradition, or argues logically against another denomination, faith or scepticism we as a church are dead to that other group, and we contribute to the death of that other.

Just as we come away from productions at the Court Theatre thinking that we have been presented with the complexities of faith and existence in a far more real and compelling manner than many a church service, so we as the church do well to encourage others to experience the diversity of life, confident that when we look for it, we will find much that is good, life-giving and rewarding.   And we should not be surprised that when we go out of our way to see the good in others - rather than regarding everything other than what conforms to our perceptions with antipathy - we will be blessed, for we will be alive to others and they will become alive to us.

The miracle of Lazarus is something that can be ‘ours' each and every day, though of course it is precisely because those who are raised are other people.   When we are continually agin the other, no one will be raised and the deadly existence we endure will continue eternally.   But life and resurrection can be just as eternal too.   And especially this will be the case when the church goes out of her way to see the good in other denominations, faiths and people of good will - whatever the details of their faith or lack thereof.

2. Mark 9.40
3. Genesis 5.24
4. Deuteronomy 34.5
5. 2 Kings 2.12
7.  Romans 5:12-15
8.  Philippians 1.23-24