'Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" John 11v40
Where do we find glory? Some find it in nature and art; others look for worldly glory of the type that can be won by force of arms and that can be bought with money. Some in their pursuit of wealth and power seek it for themselves. Others renounce such things seeking instead the glory of God.
In his Gospel, St. John invites us to see the 'signs of glory' revealed by Jesus. Simply identified in the other Gospels as miracles, John wants us to reflect on the deeper meaning behind the outward event, so that we may grow in our faith in Jesus.
Glory is found amidst the ordinary and everyday. At a village wedding the wine runs out; glory is seen in the miraculous provision of more. Glory is revealed at the feeding of the five thousand with its gift of plenty coming from two loaves and five fishes. It is seen in the healing of a cripple, it shines like light in the darkness.
For John the supreme moment of glorious revelation comes with the crucifixion of Christ. At that moment he is glorified. So glory is seen at dark moments, in the unexpected and seemly inglorious.
In today's Gospel the glory of God is seen in a graveyard in the story of the raising of Lazarus. It is reflects the universal yet highly personal and particular experience of death and loss. Jesus shares in and understands this basic fact of life. We can identify several strands.
- There is grief. 'Jesus wept'. Famously this is the shortest verse in the bible. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus when he arrived at his grave. 'See how he loved him,' the crowd remarked. He wept with his friends Mary and Martha in the loss of their brother. The three siblings had always shown him great love and hospitality. He wept for himself, soon to die upon the cross. He wept for mankind dead in sin subject to the curse of Adam, sharing mortality.
- There is recrimination, the 'if only' represented by Mary's words, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would have not have died." How often do we say 'if only', especially in our culture of blame where we can only make sense of some disaster if there is somebody to blame for what has happened. Well we can always blame God, just as Mary 'blamed' his Son.
- There is an earthy realism represented by the reference to the 'odour' of corruption. (In the AV by the phrase 'he stinketh') As sex to the Victorians so death to us has become a great taboo, disguised by euphemisms, hidden away so that no longer can we say that 'in the midst of life we are in death.' Without such realism we cannot become people of resurrection faith in the one who is the 'resurrection and the life.'
- Painful as it is we can recognise and identify with all this but then comes the difficult bit, the dramatic raising of Lazarus. It is difficult because it is simply not part of our experience. We do not see our loved ones raised from the dead. They are not returned to us however much we wish they could be. The raising of Lazarus is properly a miraculous resuscitation, a foretaste of the Resurrection heralded by Christ. Lazarus had to die again. Herein lies a deeper, difficulty reflected in the later Christian tradition that Lazarus after his return never smiled again. How could he having glimpsed the glory of heaven?
- Lazarus was called back from glory for the purpose of revealing Christ's victory over the grave. Hence the rather stark words of Jesus at the scene; "Lazarus, come out" and "Take off the grave clothes and let him go" . That is why the story is given to us on at the beginning of Passiontide. The story of the passion is so awful, so cruel that we need to be pointed to the glory that is revealed in the death of Jesus. We also need the reminder that we are always Easter people for whom Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that in so believing we have already received eternal life.
- The story of the raising of Lazarus links together two pictures; one, that of the graveyard easily recognisable, the other, the vision of heaven, outside our immediate experience. What connects the two? The tragedy of death lies in the separation it brings between those we love and us. Christian faith speaks of that gulf being bridged by Christ.
- Glory is to be found on the cross, because by his death on the cross, Christ lifts the curse of Adam. By taking away our Sin he frees us from its effects. That is why Luther famously observed that there can be no theology of glory without the theology of the cross. St. John at the beginning of Passiontide reminds us that as we contemplate the cross so we see the glory.
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