Signpost for Sunday 6 April 2014: Ezek 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Rom 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
When I was young my dad gave me a set of boiled rib bones and taught me to play them as a clickety rhythm instrument. So that’s where the Ezekiel reading begins for me. By the end of it I can’t help thinking of scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean where the ghostly pirates come to life. No doubt the Lectionery wants us to be rather more reverent and see it as the prologue which makes the raising of Lazarus not the first time God decides to resurrect someone.
Smarter people than me have written about the foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection in the Lazarus story, so I’ll leave you to ponder that.
There are a few other things that struck on reading it yet again. Firstly, I wondered how the hearers of this story might have been feeling when they had it read out to them. After all, around AD 90, the persecution of Christians had already begun. Nero started it (c. AD 67) by using Christians as human torches, but Emperor Domitian (c, AD 81) was the really nasty one – it was his command that ‘all the lineage of David be put to death’. It must have been extremely comforting if you’d just signed up as a Christian convert to discover that God could bring you back to life on earth.
That’s a bit of naughty speculation on my part but you can’t deny that the author of John’s gospel is a fantastic writer. The sisters are so vividly drawn that we can see and feel how they both want to scream at Jesus for apparently letting them down. The fact is that what some of the Jews say in 11:37 is obviously what Martha was thinking (John 11:21) and what Mary was thinking (John 11:32). Let’s be honest, it’s what we think, too, the first time we read this story, isn’t it? It’s only the shortest verse in the whole Bible (11:35) that keeps us on Jesus’ side really. That’s because the author tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved”. But the interesting thing is that I discovered those Greek words in verse 33 are exactly the same words that describe Jesus’ turmoil in the garden of Gethsemene (Matthew 26:37). They mean more than sadness; they mean that Jesus is angry and upset. Maybe the point is that even though John is doing his best to convince us that Jesus is the Word made flesh, Jesus is human enough to find death as gut-wrenching and real as it can be for us. And a resurrection that does not deny the reality of death becomes all the more powerful. We don’t need Mel Gibson’s blood and gore to make that point. When I read this story I see a Jesus who loves sincerely, weeps unashamedly and is deeply moved by an ordinary human being. And I’m one of them.