JULY 29, 2009: MARTHA, MARY, AND LAZARUS: JOHN 11: 19-27


WHEN MARTHA HEARD THAT JESUS WAS COMING SHE WENT TO MEET HIM, WHILE MARY SAT AT HOME. The occasion of Jesus’ visit was the death of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, and good friend of Jesus. The two sisters were in mourning over the recent death of their brother. Jesus himself was aware that his own death was soon to follow. In fact, he was quite aware that in visiting his friends near Jerusalem, he was putting himself in the way of serious danger from his enemies. Our Lord was aware too that his own death was but a prelude to the victory of his resurrection that would follow. He would give in advance a sign of hope to his followers by raising Lazarus to life again.


And so when he met Martha as he approached the tomb of her brother he spoke to her in words intended to inspire faith and trust in him that is stronger than death itself. “Your brother will rise again”, he told her. After Martha assured him that she believed in the resurrection at the last day, Jesus spoke words that the evangelist understood are addressed to all his faithful. “I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life.”  Saint John is the only one who has preserved those words, just as he is the single witness to the friendship of Jesus with Lazarus and to this miraculous sign of his restoration to mortal life. Clearly, he had come to understand that the raising of Lazarus was meant to serve as a sign of hope for all who, like Martha, confidently trust that Jesus’ love for his friends is stronger than death itself.


Of course, this belief is counterintuitive, to use a recently coined term that has come into use since the more recent discoveries of quantum physics have radically altered the manner of conceiving the material universe. Saint Paul learned by disappointing experience that to speak of the resurrection was so counter intuitive as to invite mockery and rejection. Saint Luke describes the reaction Paul encountered after his preaching to the Athenians on the Areopagus: “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some mocked him, others said ‘we will hear you some other time’”, a polite way of dismissing him altogether. But there were a few, Luke goes on to record, “who believed and adhered to him.” (Acts 17:32, 34) Faith establishes the relation with the Lord Jesus that gives entry into the world beyond death. Jesus alone has the key that opens the narrow gate into the universe where God is all in all. This is the world of true and eternal life that is a participation in the divine life-giving light. The beginning of this new creation takes place in us even in this world by the gift of the Spirit, bestowed only after the resurrection in its full, if hidden expression. Though Saint Paul already possessed this life in the Spirit, its presence was counter-intuitive, operative at a level accessible only to faith in the risen, glorified Lord.


We celebrate the gift of the Spirit in offering this Eucharist that is the sacrifice of the risen Savior, given by the Father of lights, that we might have, though communion with his glorified Son, even now some share in his life-giving love that is stronger than death. Let those who will scoff in their unbelief; they are blind leaders of the blind, who have not learned that the mystery of human life is counter-intuitive, and understanding of its meaning reserved to those who put their faith in Jesus, who is, in the expression of Origen, (ho zoopoion Logos, the life–giving Word of God.&

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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