IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH

To the apostle John, Jesus and life go together. To have a positive relationship with Jesus is to automatically possess life:

'whoever believes in the Son has eternal life' (3:36);
'the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life' (4:14);
'those who hear his voice will live' (5:25);
'I am the bread of life' (6:35);
'whoever follows me ... will have the light of life' (8:12);
'I give to them eternal life' (10:28).

We are left with no room for doubt. As John put it clearly in his first letter: 'He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life' (1 John 5:12). Jesus Christ, and he alone, is the source of life.

In the current context of COVID-19 death confronts us over and over again. The numbers from all around the world overwhelm us.

Jesus also stood in the presence of death. Lazarus, who believed in him has died. The sisters are weeping. The gathered crowds are mourning. Already the death tomb has been sealed. Days have past.

What is the point of those life-giving claims of Jesus here, outside this tomb? Are they not here proved false? Is it not here affirmed that death is stronger than life? The falling tears, the puzzled 'if only you had come', the anguished crowd, all tell us: Yes. Here in this death, as in all deaths, is the end of life, the end of hope. Here in the death of Lazarus, we each are confronted by our own death. Here we each stand fragile and vulnerable, threatened and afraid. If the Christ is powerless here then he is of no use to us, for it is here that we need him most.

Jesus stands outside the tomb. He who is the Lord of life, stands beside this death. He who is the creator and sustainer, stands beside this decay and disintegration. He says to Martha: 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die' (Jn 11:25), then he asks 'Do you believe this?' She answers the question simply: 'Yes, Lord', then goes on to explain why: 'I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.' She knows that he is the eternal Lord of life. She knows that beyond death there is spiritual life, and that this Jesus is the One who can give that life. But she has no proof. That is all in the sphere of ideas and hope and promises. Here, inside the tomb, is real death. Cold. Putrid. Unwanted. So alien. So wrong. So contrary to God's creative purpose, that even Jesus wept.

In this final miracle of the raising of Lazarus Jesus validates all of the claims he has made, and anticipates both his own resurrection and the spiritual regeneration and physical resurrection of all believers. Time and again Jesus has shown by word and action that he has authority and ability to undo the condemnation and curse of Genesis 3. Time and again he has taught that he is the pivotal figure in that liberation, that redemption, that salvation.

Here now is a man who believed in him, and he has died. The physical part of the curse and condemnation have been meted out. Can this man, Jesus of Nazareth, face to face with this inescapable result of our rebellion against our Creator, reverse and undo it here, in its most feared, most final expression?

Yes. He can, and he does. Because he is the resurrection, and he is the life.

He stands before the grave. His voice commands the one who is dead. By his word he calls forth life out of death.

Just as in the original creative act at the beginning of time the word of God summoned into existence all that is, so here the living Word, the Son of God, calls into life he who was dead. He reconstitutes the putrefying flesh; he renews the dehydrating blood; he restores the body fluids; he reverses the cold, hard stiffness of death; he resuscitates the heart and the lungs. All of this and more, simply by the power of his word.

And it is done. Lazarus comes forth out of the grave. And Jesus says 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'

Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the Son of God, possessed of all the life-giving creative power of the Father, with the authority to recreate, to regenerate, even those who are dead.

Even those who are dead in sin.

Here in the physical and temporal resurrection of Lazarus, as with his own eternal resurrection, Jesus provides us with solid evidence that he possesses both the power and the authority to rescue those who believe in him from the tyranny of sin and death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ have already crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life (John 5:24), and will, when Christ returns, be given new physical life (1Corinthians 15).

May we each one with Martha confess: 'I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world', and through that confession of faith, receive from his hand the gift of eternal life. With this confidence, let us live with deep unshakable joy, even in the presence of coronavirus and the death that too often accompanies it.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020