March 22, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: John 11: 1 – 41
Every year about this time, I expect….and long for an email or phone call from Laura McKenney : “ Jan, I have a crocus blooming in my front yard!!” It’s a cause for celebration and every year, I believe Laura is the first in our congregation to behold one of the most blessed miracles of Spring… the return of the flowers….especially those which poke their colorful heads out from under frozen blankets of snow….early heralds of the annual greening of Earth. So, I am waiting and hoping for that call, Laura!!
According to the calendar, Spring has arrived, though winter seems reluctant to bid us a fond farewell…reluctant to melt away leaving behind a landscape of mud and mush. The golf clubs are inching their way out of storage as winter weary golfers wait impatiently to be out on the course again. It’s been a rough winter, providing weather folks with abundant air time, road crews with countless sleepless nights and children & teachers with a few too many snow days.
It Was So Cold this winter…
( Your response: how cold was it!)
- We had to stop eating with metal cutlery. Some people walked around for days with spoons or forks stuck to their tongues!
- Hitchhikers were holding up pictures of thumbs!
- When I dialed 911, a recorded message said to phone back in the spring!
- Richard Simmons started wearing pants!!
- We had to carry around hammers and chisels so we could get into our cars!
- When farmers milked the cows, they got ice cream!
- It was so cold . . . Maine Coast Roast was serving coffee on a stick!
- the politicians had their hands in their OWN pockets!
…well you get the point. It was a tough winter….and most of us are glad it is over! This year especially, we look for the precious green shoots that signal the resurrection of the flowers that grace our meadows and gardens. I am actually excited and delighted, as I am every year, to see rich brown soil in our little garden outside.
One of my favorite poets, Winston Abbott writes about the faithful, sometime subtle signs of changing seasons. He writes of the wind.
“Surely there is something of the sound of spring in the voice of the wind. …something that must be heard by the spirit as well as the ear – for it is made tangible by something that the heart knows is intangible – a sensitivity to the great mystery of birth and life – of swelling buds – of growing things shaking off the dormancy of rest – of returning birds, of music in the marsh where life began – of the laughter of the brook – and very soon the song of the wind will join the rains to wash and cleanse the earth of its last vestige of winter. And in my heart, spring began tonight…. [ I felt it} we have walked together through the days of winter …and we shall walk together toward a bright tomorrow.” ( that from his delightful little book, Letters from Chickadee Hill)
The return of Spring…..the annual greening of Earth in New England provides incredibly beautiful, powerful images of spiritual greening….. of inner transformation and rebirthing that comes after we’ve had a long winter spell of the spirit. Perhaps we have been buried under mounds of troublesome burdens…. battered by icy winds of conflict and turmoil , held captive by crippling grief or guilt. We are weary, soul sick and lifeless. These feelings of the spirit are often equated to the season of winter. … when our body is trapped indoors by icy storms and our psyche falls prey to depressions from lack of sunlight and warm energy.
The themes of rebirth and renewal….are comfortable for me to talk about. I experience them every Spring in my garden….. on woodland trails and fragrant meadows… when greening occurs and the fragrant scents of an awakening Earth give me a marvelous, familiar feeling of rebirth in both body and soul. I really do feel like a person set free….like someone waking up after a long sleep, like an animal in the suspended state of hibernation which awakens as its body warms. It’s an annual occurrence and I adore the feeling. I love to talk about it….to read poetry about it…. to think about it as I go to sleep and wake to a new day.
Death and resurrection, however, have never been easy for me to talk about. Quite frankly, the story of Lazarus being physically raised from the dead challenged my liberal mind and soul, and I have more often then not, avoided it. It made me uncomfortable….. until I went “beyond the first glance” and found deeper meaning…. a more profound truth in this story about Lazarus that deeply affects the lives of us all. To view this dramatic story through a Metaphorical lens is to immerse oneself in the heart of the Mystery of Life and death. It invites spiritual transformation.
Fr. Richard Rohr writes: “ Humans are the only creatures who have knowledge of their own deaths. Its awareness creeps up on us as we get older. All other animals, plants, and the cycles of nature themselves seem to live out and surrender to the patterns of mortality. This places humans in a state of anxiety and insecurity from our early years. We know on some level that whatever this is that we are living will not last. This changes everything, probably more than we realize consciously. So our little bit of consciousness makes us choose to be unconscious. It hurts too much to think about it.”
A little girl’s cat had died and she was trying to understand exactly what that meant. She curled up in her father’s lap and sobbed, “Oh, Daddy, Old Tom is dead.”
“Don’t be sad,” the father said, “Old Tom has gone to heaven to be with God.”
The little girl stopped crying and looked puzzled. After a moment she asked, “Daddy, what does God want with a dead cat?”
Good question. Right!? Death is in the scary realm of the unknown…and in spite of our general fear of it, there is an enormous curiosity about it. I actually found pages of jokes about death and dying. It’s often therapeutic to laugh about that which scares us. I’ll share one with you that made me laugh out loud!
Dr. Joe Harding tells about a funeral home in Florida that guaranteed to get you to heaven.
“They advertised a dramatic innovation in burial services. For about $4,000 they would cremate your body, put it into a small rocket, and fire it into orbit! It was guaranteed to circle the earth for 2,300 years! Perhaps, one of the selling points of the new idea would be that on a clear night people could come out, look up at the heavens and watch you go by. I am sure that someone will even put identifying blinking lights on the satellites so that people can say, ‘There goes George! There is Mary! There is Bill! They are all up there with their friends.””
Cute idea!? People are doing all kinds of creative things with ashes these days.
Picture this scene at a Las Vegas gambler’s funeral. The pastor intones, “George is not dead, he only sleeps.”
From among the gambling friends who were attending came a voice, “I got $100 that says he’s dead.”
To disguise our nervousness about it, we can tell jokes and giggle like school kids….. but in this story from John’s gospel, Jesus wasn’t joking. He was offering profound insight.
On this Sunday before Palm Sunday, when Jesus made his dangerous journey into Jerusalem, we are being challenged to take a look at what we may view as the final enemy…death, which is faced more easily with the promise of resurrection to follow. What is the lesson about death that Jesus was teaching his disciples and Mary and Martha and us….that John’s gospel wanted to include?
Fr. Rohr says: “ An important clue is given right before the action when the disciples try and discourage Jesus from going back to Judea where he is in danger. Jesus calmly says ‘ Are there not twelve hours in the day? When a person can walk without stumbling? When he or she sees the world bathed in light?’
Those who draw upon the 12 hours, who see the world bathed in light now, have begun to see the pattern. …Yes the hours of darkness will come, but now we know that it will not last. It is only part, but not the whole of life…. just as day is itself 12 hours and the night is the other 12….two sides of one mystery of life. Jesus’ job is simply to wake us up to this, as he did Lazarus and the onlookers. Once you are awake to the universal truth, then physical death is no enemy to be feared. Do you believe this? he says”
And then in a final brilliant finale to the story, Jesus invites the onlookers to join him in making resurrection happen. ‘Move the stone away! Unbind him and let him go free!”
According to Fr. Rohr’s interpretation, It seems that we have a part to play in creating a culture of life and resurrection! We are encouraged to unbind one another from our fears and doubts about death. We must come to experience our lives….. and help others to experience their lives….as bathed in Light. The stone to be rolled away is always the fear of death…..that keeps us from seeing and believing that death is merely part of the Larger Mystery called life. It is does not have to be the final word!
I discovered an interesting commentary on this story by, Alyce M. McKenzie , who is Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. She shared her struggles with this story and wrote:
Until recently, I have seen this story of the raising of Lazarus as an inaccessible and, in some respects, unappealing story. Lazarus is not fleshed out as a character. All we know about him is that Jesus loved him and he got sick and died. His sisters, whom we have met in Luke’s gospel, seem a little passive aggressive. Their initial note doesn’t ask Jesus to come. It just informs him of their brother’s illness. Then, when he approaches their town, they each, separately, run out and lay the identical guilt trip on him. “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”
The sequence of the Gospel of John is the opposite of the children’s game “Show and Tell.” It is “Tell and Show.” The Prologue tells us that Jesus is the light and life of the world (Jn 1:4, 5). The giving of sight to the man born blind (Jn 9), the transformation of the Samaritan woman at the well and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11) show us Jesus giving light and life to particular human beings. We are invited to see ourselves in them and him in our lives.
The author of the gospel of John takes a friendship between Jesus and this family and an event that has the quality of reminiscence and shapes it to his theological purpose (Brown, 431). Lazarus is the “one Jesus loves”; he represents all those whom Jesus loves, which includes you and me and all humankind. This story, then, is the story of our coming to life from death in this present moment, not just in a future event. Lazarus is us…you and me.
It’s a personal story for each of us involving what needs to die in us, so that new life can be born. It’s a story of transformation from death to life. Central to the message of Christianity is the concept dying to an old way of being and being born again into a new way of being. Embracing a new identity….and we see this theme in many of the gospel narratives, mentioned previously…. It is central in Jesus’ teachings.
It’s common in sermon writing to end with a poem for you to take home with you. So here it is.
I adore and treasure the writing and insight of Joyce Rupp, and was very moved by the poem you find on the back of the bulletin which I wanted you to have.
A Remnant of Resurrection
the time for daffodils has come. bunches of six, ten or twelve, with tightly wrapped buds, arrive from warmer lands.
like sentinels of invitation that keep my wintered heart leaning into spring.
the directions say to cut at least a half inch off the stem, then place in water and wait for the surprise.
behold, in the early hour of dawn, I see resurrection on my kitchen table, every yellowed daffodil hurrahing the morning, stretching outward in the etched-glass vase.
but what captures my attention is one small, thin remnant, voluntarily discarded, beneath the smiling daffodils. this dry, transparent cover, a cast off tube of protection once concealing a fragile bud, conveys the price of blooming.
I pick up this remnant of resurrection and hold it for a long, silent time, wondering what soul-shroud of mine needs to be unwrapped, before I, too, am blooming. … Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary
That’s the poem and here’s our “assignment” for the week!!
I pick up this remnant of resurrection and hold it for a long, silent time, wondering what soul-shroud of mine needs to be unwrapped, before I, too, am blooming.
What can we take home this morning from this story? What soul-shroud needs to be unwrapped and discarded so we can be free to experience life as Light…. to overcome the darkness….to dispel our fears? What are the remnants of our resurrection!? Amen.