Sunday, 10 April 2011
5th Sunday Lent, Year A, Shaftesbury
I want to say a few words today connecting some thoughts about faith, about forgiveness, and about hope -all in the light of Lazarus being raised from the dead.
I think that one of the startling things about that gospel narrative we just heard, is to listen to the depth of faith in Martha. Even after her brother's death, she said to Jesus, "I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, He will grant you."
Deep faith is a great thing, and one of the ways we can deepen our faith is by recognising WHERE our faith comes from. Where is it that we RECEIVE our faith from?
I refer to the language of "receiving" faith in part because today we are having a deeply symbolic act of faith: the catechumen in our parish, Catherine Simmonds, who is preparing for adult baptism, will be presented with the Creed. This is a sign of how all of us "receive" our faith. How is it that we know about Jesus Christ? How is it that we know the truths that are contained in the Scriptures? How is it that we know about the reality that we experience in the sacraments?
We only know these things because we have been told them. We only know these things because these truths have been passed on to us, because we have received these truths. We have received these truths from the Church -and this is an intrinsic part of what faith, true faith, is about.
That is what will be symbolised in Catherine being presented with the Creed, receiving it by listening to us profess it. And she will make her formal assent to that faith as she professes it herself before her baptism at the Easter vigil.
To return to the account about Lazarus.
There are truths of the faith being offered to us in this account about Lazarus.
And we will only "receive" those truths of the faith if we approach them with the spirit of faith, open to the Holy Spirit deepening our faith.
So, in terms of those truths in that narrative:
We might note the compassion and care of our Lord that is manifested in human emotions in this passage in a way that is more obvious than perhaps anywhere else in the Gospels: it is here that we have the brief statement that, "Jesus wept". It is here that we have the phrase, "Jesus said in great distress with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’" It is here that we have the Lord's loving but powerful command, "Lazarus, here! Come out!” Followed by the deeply symbolic words, "unbind him, let him go free".
For us, in the holy season of Lent, the holy season when, as I preached last week, we should be feeling sorrow for our sins, and might even be feeling dejection and despair as we contemplate our failure, for us in this holy season those words that were addressed to Lazarus can be seen as profoundly symbolic of how the Lord wishes to raise us up, raise us up from our sins.
Jesus “weeps” for our sins. He "sighs" for our sins. And when we are imprisoned in our sins He too says to us, "Here! Come out!" And though our sins bind us He wishes that the forgiveness He offers may come to us and that we may be "unbound" from our sins.
And, if we receive these truths in faith, then these truths of faith will give us hope.
But, these truths of faith will only give us hope we "receive” them. "If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"