The text of the sermon, based on John 11.1-45, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 26, 2023.


Martha and Mary send word to their friend, Jesus, that his friend, their brother Lazarus, is sick. Rather than make haste, Jesus, for two days, delays. By the time he arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is dead and buried.

The sisters, each, in turn, express disconsolate disappointment, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus weeps at the grave. Some, sympathetically, observe, “Jesus really loved Lazarus.” Others, skeptical of his emotional display, grumble: “Couldn’t he who restored a blind man’s sight have saved Lazarus from death?”

Nevertheless, Jesus’ love for Lazarus is greater than his sisters’ wish that their brother not die. For, in response to Martha’s statement of belief in a final resurrection from the dead, Jesus proclaims: “I am the resurrection.” And his subsequent command, “Come out!”, calling Lazarus from the tomb, confirms the truth of his claim.

Jesus’ declaration, truly, self-description are the opening words of our burial rite.[1] His testimony expresses our Christian belief that, though we die, Jesus, by his death and through his resurrection, gives life that surpasses physical death.

Life after death. Life beyond death. Living forever and in an exalted, tranquil state. Liberated from the sorrows of this world. Such an appealing vision. Especially, perhaps, for all who endure daily hardship. All who pass through the psalmic “vale of tears.”[2] All who are caught in the poetic “fell clutch of circumstance.”[3]

Years ago, I attended a theater performance. In one of the vignettes, the character spoke through the voice of a Middle Eastern woman. Her life burdened, obliterated by the continuing oppression of a male-dominated, repressively religious culture. She uttered, for me, a (the) definitive expression of despair. Her voice, dripping with resignation, she said, “I no longer can distinguish between living and dying. So, I have stopped trying to kill myself. It would be redundant.”[4]

The idea of eternal life, freed from all anguish, has universal appeal…

Yes, for all who dwell in distress…

Yet also, diabolically, for oppressors throughout history who have sought to silence the cries of the oppressed with visions of heavenly glory when suffering shall be no more…

And, yes, surely, for all who believe that eternal life is the point Easter’s proclamation: “Christ is risen!”

As for this last, yes, I believe it. Yet I declare to you: There is more! More to Christianity than living in faith and dying with hope that we will rise again like Lazarus, like Jesus, so to dwell with God. For eternal life, does not begin with physical death. Eternal life is now.

Jesus said to Martha: “I am resurrection and I am life!” I believe he meant today.

Jesus shared this life in his teaching about God who is Love, unconditional benevolence for all. Jesus lived the love he taught; reaching out to all, especially the marginalized and disenfranchised. Jesus died for what he taught and lived, stretching out his arms on a cross, proclaiming, “I love you this much.”

This same Jesus calls us today, saying, “I am resurrection and I am life.”

For us, as Christians, life is not having physical existence in this world. And death is not not having physical existence in this world. Life – recalling what Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again”[5] – is being filled with Spirit. The Spirit of God. The Spirit of Love. Love for God. Love for others. All others. Love for ourselves.

Therefore, death is not having Spirit. Not loving God. Not loving others. All others. Not loving ourselves.

Therefore, in this world, we can have life, although still be dead.

Eternal life is not a state of being in which we, merely, have faith and for which we hope. Eternal life is not merely a life that we will live beyond the grave. Eternal life is life we can live now. For Jesus said, “I am resurrection and I am life!” Today!

© 2023 PRA

Illustration: Resurrection of Lazarus, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, pages 469 and 491.

[2] “The vale of tears” (also “the desolate valley”) is an English translation of Psalm 84.5.

[3] From the poem, Invictus (1875), William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

[4] From Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues (1996), Under the Burqa (2003), descriptive of the plight of Afghani women under Taliban rule.

[5] John 3.7

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