Saint James Anglican Church

Joseph Howe Drive at the Armdale Rotary, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada             


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Lenten sermon series

 

Lent V -  2008

 

The Raising of Lazarus: Millennium Goal 8

 

Creative writers often make skillful use of foreshadowing. Through the use of foreshadowing an event or development becomes an indicator or portent of something to come. Foreshadowing is a way to enhance meaning and broaden perspective with an economy of words.

 

According to John, The raising of Lazarus from the dead is the seventh and final miracle that Jesus performs. The story of Lazarus comes at a critical turning point in the Gospel. It comes at the conclusion of the account of the signs or miracles of Jesus. The account of Jesus' impending departure, passion, death and resurrection are about to be told. The account of the raising of Lazarus foreshadows both the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection which faithful Christians anticipate when history ends and Christ returns.

 

Biblical scholars make a clear and radical distinction of status between those whom Jesus raises from the dead during his earthly ministry, and Christ's own resurrection. All those whom Jesus raised from the dead will die again. The risen Christ is, of course, as St. Paul tells us the first fruits of those raised to new life. However, it is important not to put too fine a point on this major insight. The amount of time that Lazarus has been dead, his tomb, the stone at the tomb, and the grave clothes are details shared with the account of the resurrection of Christ. We hear in the story that there was a delay in Jesus arriving to save Lazarus from death. The bystanders note that Jesus loved Lazarus. The context of the early church is anticipated here. A community grounded in the Love of Jesus, longs for his return while wrestling with the death of beloved members. They await the fulfillment of Christ's promise (recorded earlier in John) that the dead will be called forth from their tombs. This sign that Jesus works foreshadows the hope and faith that is central to the Christian tradition. The raising of Lazarus is not the same as Christ's glorious resurrection, but it anticipates both his resurrection and ours.
C. H. Dodd notes that the theme of this entire episode is resurrection. This theme is highlighted in the conversation between Jesus and the sisters of Lazarus. (1)

 

As with previous encounters from John's Gospel the conversation around this miracle is highly charged and pregnant with meaning. I want to focus in on just one part of the conversation here. Martha comes out to meet Jesus. She tells him
"Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died, but even now I know God will give you whatever you ask."
There is a compact tension in her words. Jesus was not present. Jesus' presence could have prevented the death of her brother. Lazarus is dead. There is a lingering note of hopefulness. Jesus' reply is sparse. In the light of what is to happen next, it is open to interpretation.
"Your brother will rise again".
Martha voices the hope of resurrection that she and many other faithful Jews of her time nurtured.
"I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus responds with a challenging assertion joined to a very pointed question.
"I am the resurrection and the life ... do you believe this?"
There is a sense in which Martha's reply to Jesus makes the raising of Lazarus itself almost anti-climatic. Before the miracle even occurs, she is the voice of faith and belief. As Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza points out Martha's confession of faith is not in response to the miracle, but it is a response to the person of Jesus. (2) Martha replies,
"I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
Martha is a prototype for every person of Christian faith-a faith in which the place and role of Christ is crucial and central.

 

Jesus' question and Martha's salient reply, gives rise to a further question for us. It too is a pointed question. Do the central beliefs of our faith open us up to the world around us?

 

Martha confesses faith in the same Christ that was sent, as John tells us earlier, because God so loved the world. Jesus comes into the world from the very heart of the Father. The bond of love unites Jesus and the Father and The Advocate or Holy Spirit. Love joins believers to Christ. Love bonds the community, as St. John understands it. God sends the Christ and pours out love to the World. It is the application of this same love that animates the conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria and draws in the people of her community. As we heard in the last piece of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus
"God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may have life."
Ted Scott was a Primate of the Canadian Church and an internationally recognized figure on the world stage. Scott believed the authority of Jesus was grounded in the authority of love. "This tough, hard accepting, challenging love, expressed by Jesus Christ ... leads to change, to transformation, to renewal. It is, surely, the energy of the loving God expressed in action." (3)

 

Throughout this Lenten series I've attempted to make connections between the Gospel readings, the Millennium Goals, and the life of discipleship. The connection I want to make this morning is more indirect than that attempted in previous weeks. Millennium Goal Eight is develop a Global Partnership for Development. Here I want to be clear about two things.

 

First our faith is grounded in the work and the person of Jesus the Christ.

Second the confession of our faith should encourage, not inhibit, our partnership with others in working for a better world.

 

Christians can work in partnership with others at a variety of levels (i) with other Christians (ii) with people of other faiths (ii) with all people of good will. Pursuing the values that serve the common good creates opportunities to express our faith in practical ways while building bridges with others. If the challenge of the United Nations Millennium Goals is to be met, it will require a wide variety of effective partnerships. Let me mention just a few that are applicable to us.

 

The work of The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund is one very effective way for Anglicans to partner with others. Our current Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz stated this in his New Year's Day sermon. He noted that The Anglican Church of Canada is committed to the Millennium Goals through the Primate's Fund and its partnerships throughout the world. Canadian Anglicans will be working with the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches to promote The Goals. He indicates that the Millennium Goals will have an important profile throughout the entire Anglican Communion into the future.

http://www2.anglican.ca/primate/communications/2008-01-01.htm

 

According to the Report of PWRDF to our most recent General Synod, The Primate's Fund connects us to a variety of effective partnerships that serve advancement of the Millennium Goals. The Primate's Fund has partners in 75 countries, and 25 regional partners in four global regions. These partnerships have focused on micro-credit, food security, and health and human rights.

http://www.anglican.ca/gs2007/rr/reports/report-16.htm

 

The Canadian Context also brings us into partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA. Canada, like the majority of other nations in world, including the other G-8 nations, has committed itself to the Millennium Goals. The website for this government agency identifies a variety of ways in which Canada strives to participate in partnerships in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals. These include increased aid, greater debt relief, access of affordable essential drugs, market access to Canadian markets, improving availability of new technologies. CIDA is an agency that historically matches funds from The Priamte's Fund for development and relief work.
http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/CIDAWEB/acdicida.nsf/En/JUD-1318137-HHX

 

Locally, The Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University has incorporated the Millennium Goals into its work as a participant in the international community. The Coady Institute focuses on education and leadership training as a key ingredient for international development. Leaders from all over the world plug into The Coady Institute to receive education and training. Many of The Coady students are people of faith living in very demanding contexts.

http://www.coady.stfx.ca/resources/reports/annual/CI_Ann_Report_05.pdf

 

The Coady Institute follows in the tradition of The Rev. Dr. Moses Coady. Dr. Coady, like many of his contemporaries during the great depression, including members of the Anglican Fellowship for Social Action (AFSA) understood the compatibility of faith with openness to the world.

 

There is much to do. There is more to do on the part of our church. The Canadian Church has endorsed the Millennium goals. PWRDF gives us a vehicle for supporting the goals. However, in providing resources and educational materials to our members in the service of the goals, we lag far behind The Episcopal Church. Our American partners have joined support of the Millennium goals through Episcopal Relief and Development with a variety of educational resources. We can also learn more from our partners elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. A visitor from Manicland, a partner diocese, recently told some folks here " Don't just send money, come and see us!"

 

The Raising of Lazarus foreshadows the Resurrection of Christ and the confession of what is central to a Christian faith. The proclamation of this gospel, on the Sunday before Palm Sunday, foreshadows our journey through Holy Week to Easter and life in the baptized community. The gospel reading this morning gives us a clearer insight into the nature of our faith, and the Divine love that is at its core. That same faith will form and shape us for service to God's world in partnership with all that care about the future of the Earth and her people.

 

Endnotes

(1) C.H. Dodd The Interpretation of The Fourth Gospel. Cambridge University Press, 1953. Pp. 363-368

(2) Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In Memory of Her. Crossroad, New York, 1994. P.328

(3) Edward W. Scott. "The Authority of Love" in Authority in the Anglican Communion. Stephen W. Sykes, ed. Anglican Book Centre, Toronto 1987. P. 67