Raising Lazarus - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

Raising Lazarus

Luke 7:11-17

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11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.

12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.

16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.

17 And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.

Raising Lazarus

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We've just heard in our Gospel reading of Jesus raising from death the widow's son at Nain.  Earlier we celebrated new life in the waters of baptism and we prayed "we are buried with Christ in his death so that we might share in his resurrection".  So I'd like to offer some reflections this morning on the gospel stories of resurrection and on baptism.

The raising of the widow's son is peculiar to Luke's gospel but there are similar stories elsewhere in the Gospels, most notably the raising of Lazarus in John's Gospel.  Luke's story points us to Jesus' identity.  The raising of the widow's son echoes that which was performed by the prophet Elijah found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the first book of Kings. In Jewish tradition Elijah was expected to return to usher in the arrival of the promised messiah when, in the words of the prophet Isaiah "the blind will see, the deaf will hear and the lame will walk". 

Immediately after the story of the raising of the widow's son in Luke's gospel, John the Baptist asks after hearing rumours of the event "art thou he that should come" and Jesus replies "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them".  Thus the story points to fulfilment of messianic prophecy.

The story of the raising Lazarus in John's Gospel goes further still.  On that occasion, when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days already and there is a stench of decomposition.  The story of Lazarus seems to trump that of the widow's son.  I read in preparing for this sermon that there is apparently a church in Nain where the healing is remembered. During the pilgrimage that I made to the Holy Land the year before last I didn't go there but I did visit Bethany, on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives just above Jerusalem, where there is a burial chamber that you enter from the street descending down a flight stairs. 

It has been regarded as the tomb of Lazarus since at least the 4th Century.  Our guide shared with us a story of his first visit there many years earlier.  One of the members of his group was particularly moved and remained behind to pray whilst the others ascended to street level.  Another group of pilgrims were waiting for them and assuming that they'd now all left, began their planned liturgy before entering.  After a hymn had been sung tension quickly mounted as the reading of the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead began.  Well you can imagine what happened, at the crucial point their friend emerges blinking in the sunlight, the group in the middle of the worship are soon blinking in shock to see him and then at the rest of his party over their apparent lack of respect for the worship!  I'm sure plenty of groups have heard the same story over the years.

If we consider what the response of mourners at Nain or at Bethany might have been, I imagine that they would surely have been terrified at first, the dead were walking!  Then perhaps when they recognise that in fact, the dead had been returned to life, their fear would quickly turn to praise and joy.  In both stories we are told how effected Jesus was.  At Nain he saw the widow, she has lost her husband and now here son, and Jesus had compassion on her.  The Gospel was written in Greek of course and the Greek word for compassion is derived from the word for entrails - it carries the sense of being physically moved.  If you like Jesus was moved to the pit of his stomach in compassion for the widow.  At Bethany also Jesus was physically moved.  In the shortest verse in scripture we learnt in that passage that "Jesus wept".  

Both of these stories anticipate Jesus' resurrection but they show us that Jesus shares in our grief and loss.  Of course there is a fundamental difference between the raising of the widow's son and of Lazarus and that of Christ in that the former are resuscitated, they return to mortal lives.  Jesus on the other hand is resurrected to eternal life.  He was not saved from death, rather he went through and beyond it to eternal life in the father. 

Now eternal destinies are beyond our comprehension but we understand from scripture that in Christ all that we are will be redeemed and held by God.  We shall not be less than we are in this life but infinitely more.

In the waters of baptism we take a momentous step on that journey because in our 'drowning' in the water of baptism we die to sin and raise to new life in Christ Jesus.  We become immersed in the life of God.  No temporary reprieve, no, we are born again by water and the spirit, incorporated into the body of Christ, united in his dying and rising again.  As members of Christ's body we are called to journey into the fullness of God's Love.  Today we welcome Alice as she joins us on that Journey,

All glory be to him who is father, son and holy spirit.


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