5 Lent a March 29, 2020
Ez. 37:1-14 Ps. 130
Rom. -23 John 11:1-44
One of my assumptions about the appearance of the Gospels, is the success of the Jesus Movement. The Jesus Movement and the early home church social phenomenon was so successful that "institutionalization" began to occur. Institutionalization happens in any organization that is successful and is comprised of members who really believe in the mission of the organization to the point of perpetuating the message and keeping it alive.
The Gospels were generated because of institutional success. While the Gospel recount the life of the root event of the Jesus Movement, Jesus Christ, they arose after other writings. We know that they occurred after the writings of St. Paul.
St. Paul was the chief theologian of the early church. He wrote letters about church order and discipline, but also about the theological importance of Jesus and the justification of a truly universal church, including of the Gentiles. St. Paul also generated the most significant poetic metaphors for the mystical experience with the Risen Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And St. Paul did not ever actually see Jesus of Nazareth
Members of the early church were initiates in a spiritual path of Christians who shared different kinds of experiences of the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. St. Paul and other leaders instructed these Christian initiates into this mystical path. Paul provided an entire poetry to speak about this experience. He provided a theological history to connect the Jesus Movement as a significant innovation in the Judaic traditions. It was so innovative that many in the synagogues believed that went too far abroad from prescribed Judaic ritual practice.
By the time the Gospels were written, the success of the early churches required programmatic teaching of incorporating the mystical teaching, practice and theology of Paul into presentations of the life of Jesus.
John's Gospel was the latest Gospel serving as a hiding of spiritual meaning and practice within the presentation of words, deeds and life example of Jesus of Nazareth.
What did Paul write about us? He said that we lived within the state of death of sin. Why? The wages of sin is death. No matter how we consider mortality, it is anchored in the reality of death. Human life comes with the experience of death. But St. Paul also wrote that we could experience another kind of life even as our physical lives careens towards death. We could experience the Holy Spirit and the life of Risen Christ, as a down payment or as an assurance of eternal life, or as the writer of John called it, "abundant life."
So, Christians who experienced the premonition of eternal life in the experience of the Holy Spirit still knew that they were going to experience physical death. How could this ambiguity be presented in a Gospel teaching?
We have the brilliant story of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, one of whom it is said was loved by Jesus. And Jesus loved and was loved by the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha of Bethany.
Lazarus is the one who died but who is brought to life again by Jesus Christ. But Lazarus would die again. Of course. So, what is the teaching purpose of the Lazarus story?
Each of us is like Lazarus. We live under the basic human condition of sin and what is that? It is knowing that we will physically die. Yet even in this state of being defined by life's duration ending in death, we can experience another kind of life, resurrection life, eternal life, Holy Spirit life. And experiencing this resurrection life does not exempt our bodies from physical death.
This is brute Christian realism. The experience of the Holy Spirit, the mystical experience with the Risen Christ as our spiritual identity does not deny or exempt our bodies from death. But it means that physical death will not define us as a final boundary of our life. Why? Because while we live in our bodies we can know Jesus Christ, the Risen Christ as the Resurrection and the life.
We can know that Jesus is weeping at how profound we experience the loss of life of each person in our cherished lives within our bodies. But we, in our state of death, can experience this inner assurance of living beyond our bodily life. And this is the narrative for the eternal image of hope that is within every person in this world. This eternal image of hope within us needs the narrative of the resurrection to release it into the hopeful practice of faithful lives.
Can we appreciate the sheer genius of how this story of Lazarus encapsulates the profound mystical theology and practice of St. Paul?
The coronavirus has brought into focus the state of death which we all live in. It heightens our sense of mortality. It results in our mourning of the death of people. And so, we today affirm that Jesus is resurrection and life; Jesus affirms personal continuity beyond our deaths. And knowing this, we can live differently.
We today can know ourselves to be like Lazarus, friend of Jesus, loved by Jesus, but living in the state of the death of sin. We can know the apparent delays of Jesus, which represent the probable conditions of freedom in our world. "Jesus, if you had been here, the coronavirus would not have occurred." The conditions of freedom means that often good things, health and resolution are delayed because not everything runs according to our own desired personal schedules.
But you and I, living within the state of the death of sin, with many apparent delays in positive outcomes; we can know resurrection life because of the encounter with the Risen Christ who says to us like Martha of old, "I am resurrection, and I am life." Within each of us, we can know this abundant life. So while we live on perpetual delay of the perfection that we so desire for everything, we can experience the totally compensating resurrection life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And if you and I can pierce the inner meaning of the Lazarus story; we have been initiated into the spiritual mystical program of Jesus Christ. Amen.