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Fifth Sunday of Lent

Seduced by the Resurrection

I am the Resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Christians are so used to talking of life after death in the shape of the resurrection of the dead that initially it may unremarkable to believe this. Moreover, we share this belief with Orthodox Jews and with Muslims. So it seems part and parcel of the religious world with which we are most familiar, something we take for granted as part of our faith.

Yet it is a belief which begins to seem more remote and difficult when we ask ourselves whether we do really make it a central part of our thoughts and lives. Of course, for the vast majority of those people with whom we live in Britain today, traditional belief in the resurrection of the dead is absurd. It's commonplace to think that people live and die and that's an end to it. No amount of pampering with creams and lotions, healthy diets, or even plastic surgery, changes this. And we Christians don't often help matters for others or for ourselves, because we tend to marginalise belief in the resurrection in favour of an emphasis on the immediate life of the soul in heaven, purgatory or even hell.

We need in fact to be enticed, and even confronted, into believing more firmly in the reality of resurrection and into recognising more clearly who it is that has the power to bring it about. This is what Jesus does in the passage of the Gospel for today for his friends Martha and Mary, and by extension for all his disciples including us.

John makes it very clear that Jesus loves Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The reality of the humanity of the divine Son is nowhere so easily grasped as here. Jesus's love is real and his sorrow at the death of Lazarus is real. He does not delay out of callousness or out of bravado. Rather a greater love and indeed grief are at work: a love for humanity and for the realisation of the fullness of life it might have; a grief at the misery of humanity caused by sinfulness which robs it of life. Love and grief make Jesus wait until Lazarus has died, so that he may indeed coax Martha and Mary into believing fully that there is a resurrection and that Jesus is the one through whom this is brought about.

For our part we need to go through the same process of learning that Martha and Mary go through. From the very beginning of Christianity firm belief in the resurrection -- either of Jesus or his disciples -- has been difficult. Jesus gives Martha and Mary the sight and experience of the resurrection to convince them of its reality. There's no escaping from the fact that Lazarus was dead and now lives at the command of Jesus. What we have today is their experience rather than our own and we can do no more than appropriate that for ourselves, by reading through and meditating on this passage, by working through the stages of limited faith and misunderstanding found in it, stages which we do in fact experience in our own lives.

There are in fact some ways in which bringing the dead back to life does not seem so absurd to people today. Hearts stop and breathing fails, but they are routinely restarted. Resuscitation, if not resurrection, is nothing unusual for us. Even the prospect of the dead being brought back to life after sometime does not seem to us to be so unthinkable, at least for those who believe in such things as cryogenics.

What distinguishes the Christian perspective is that we think that there is a God who will bring about the resurrection of the dead and who has provided the model and the means for this in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is the basis for our conviction and hope. What we have to do is allow Christ to entice us to believe more fully in him and in his achievement for us.

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