|Edgar Moreno (left) and Alcides|
Edgar and Alcides Moreno loved to clean windows, especially of huge skyscraper buildings. One day they set out to clean the windows of the 47-floor luxury Solow Tower building in Manhattan. They took the lift up. It was a beautiful day, but at the top the temperature was close to freezing. When they stepped onto the washing platform, one side of it gave way, plummeting Edgar 144 meters to his death in a narrow alley. Tragically, Alcides side also gave way and he plummeted to the ground at 120 miles and hour.
Miraculously, Alcides was found alive in the same alley, crouching, gripping the remainder of the washing platform. He was rushed to a nearby hospital suffering multiple injuries."If you're looking for a medical miracle, this certainly qualifies," Dr Herbert Pardes, the then president and CEO of the hospital said.
"The survival rate even from a four-storey fall is not very good," Dr Glenn Asaeda from the New York City Fire Department said. "A higher hand was in control here.”
Empathy: Stories of this sort are very rare. We all will die. Maybe not so dramatically, but like the taxes we pay, it is one of the other certainties in life. Yet the story we hear as the Gospel reading is more remarkable still.
Like Edgar Moreno, Lazarus has sadly died but that’s far from the end of the story. When Jesus finally arrives at the family home, Martha admonishes Jesus. Such is the closeness of friendship between Jesus and this family that Martha is not only certain that Jesus is capable of preventing death but sufficiently confident in her friendship with him that she can tell him off for not having been there to do so. Jesus is sufficiently confident in himself and in the love he experiences in this family that he allows this woman who is not his mother to talk to him in that way. As with the Samaritan woman at the well, as with Mary Magdalene, as with so many other women, Jesus breaks down societal norms.
Jesus said: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Over the last few weeks I’ve meeting many of my parishioners in small groups to do some talking and listening together, trying to discern what sort of church we are and what we’d like to be and what the community we live in’s needs may be. Generally we probably think we know our community pretty well. But what surprised me was whether we were talking about Mill End, Heronsgate, West Hyde or Maple Cross - the big issue we noticed facing our community was isolation for both the elderly and the young. We know it if we think about it, but I certainly hadn’t seen it. The same was true for Martha.
She believed in the resurrection, but as a future event but it wasn't a new or radical idea. Lazarus will rise again when God vindicates His people. Like good Jews she believed that the Resurrection would happen at the end of time. What Jesus then says brings that future hope right into the here and now. That action of God, that future life-restoring, death-defeating, covenant-fulfilling, creation-affirming action of God is not only future and is not only an action of God, it is now and is experienced through connection with a specific person, the person John has identified at the beginning of his Gospel as the Word made flesh. God incarnate, standing with Martha just outside Bethany. All he asks of her is, Do you believe this?
What Jesus asks Martha He asks us: do you believe this? The promise of this passage to us is exactly the same as it was to Martha and to Mary, to those who were stood at the tomb, who had come to comfort the sisters. Jesus offers the power of his resurrection in our lives today if we will accept it. We can have the same hope instilled in us that though we will die, we can – and will – be raised to new resurrection bodies on the new earth. This is no “rapture”, not a disembodied, go-to-heaven-when-you-die notion because that’s not what the scripture says. This is real, earthy, physical resurrection. This is God demonstrating his commitment to his creation. This is not the blithe acceptance of death as some sort of gateway to something better to come but God in Jesus promising to overturn and defeat death. And all he asks of us is, Do you believe this?
Now, there’s living required after the response to Jesus’ question. But do you believe it even in the face of the Columbian landslides; after the triggering of Article 50; in the places in life where we feel picked over, sun bleached and barren places where we have stopped hoping that things could and should be different.
When Lazarus came out of the tomb, he was still in his grave clothes, and the community had to help him out of them. We are called to live as a community of those who follow Jesus, to continually help each other out of the metaphorical grave clothes that bind us. To come alongside the isolated in our communities and offer them love and friendship - whether that’s amongst those whom we already know living in Meresworth or Moneyhill Court - or those who we don't know yet perhaps offering a lunchtime drop in or afternoon coffeeshop or a toddler group on the Maple Cross estate. We do this in anticipation of the Kingdom of God that is to come in its fullness. It is then that, as Jesus did when he was raised on the first Easter morning, we will be raised without grave clothes. We will then be unhindered by the past and free as children of God to live our eternal life in and with him.
I am indebted to the @underseamonkey for some scholarship that shaped this sermon