I wonder what the resurrection means to you? For some of us it is a hope for the future. For many in modern western Christianity it is something mysterious that will happen after we die, or at the end of time with the second coming of Jesus. Some people might think that there is a bodily resurrection. For others resurrection is a more spiritual affair. Perhaps a type of oneness with God. Often times our thoughts and beliefs are tied in to what we think heaven may be and we what we see as our purpose or role as humans in this world.
I remember when I was about 11 years old, and my school teacher picked on me to answer what was my aim in life. I think I must have been in an RE lesson at the time, and certainly it was at junior school. I remember mumbling something like “to get to heaven”. It seemed to be the appropriate response at the time. Since then like most people, my thinking has changed profoundly, and to such an extent that I am truly no longer the person that I was. Indeed, having undergone the discipline of training as a local preacher and engaged in the wider reading that is required to do justice to the role of being a preacher, I would say that the aim of “getting to heaven”, is problematic as it separates heaven from earth and as such is not a good model of understanding, certainly with respect to the Resurrection. However I don’t want to spoil the ending so we will revisit that a bit later on. Hold on for 10 minutes or so!
Ezekiel’s story of the valley of dry bones that was read to us earlier is sometimes taken to be an illustration of bodily resurrection. However, Ezekiel itself claims that the story is a metaphor for what has (or had) happened to Israel, that in their position of exile, they felt as though they were dead. From a cultural perspective of the time with the importance of the Temple as the point where Heaven and Earth met, being in exile or being excluded from worship was a situation that was akin to being dead. One might think of what it meant to being classed as unclean in Jesus’ time. Back to Ezekiel, it is certainly a story of new creation, and new beginnings, but one that focuses on Israel as a chosen people rather than a bodily resurrection of an individual. It is about a return from exile. A refashioning, one might suggest of the exodus story with Moses bringing the Israelites to the promised land.
Lazarus and the story of his resurrection if I may call it that for a moment, is significantly different and can be viewed as a precursor event to Jesus’ own resurrection in a number of ways. First of all, by raising Lazarus, Jesus set in motion the sequence of events that would ultimately lead to his own death. Much more so than the minor event in the temple forecourts where he turned a few tables over. The Chief priests who belonged to the ruling Sadducee movement did not believe in the resurrection, as to their perspective, there was not an explicit mention made in the Torah. You may remember it was the Sadducees who tried to trip Jesus up in there questioning about what would happen to a widow who had married 7 husbands in the resurrection.
For them of course, it was much more convenient for them as in their position of power and authority, lack of any resurrection added to the fear factor that they could impress on the public as a powerful political and social tool in crowd control. Jesus had already courted controversy by healing people of diseases and presumably injuries sustained at the hands of the temple bullies that would exclude them from the worshipping community. He ate with the unclean, effectively treating them as though they were clean, driving a veritable bus through the cleanliness laws of the time, and then to add insult to injury he suggested, or appeared to suggest that these ragamuffins who followed him would actually enter paradise before the elite! Now, he had done something that got right up the Sadducees noses, he had shown that death is not the ultimate threat. If death is not to be feared then what sort of control would the leadership have over the public any more. Raising Lazarus not only saved Martha and Mary from destitution and exclusion, it was also an explosive political act in the eyes of the Temple leadership.
John however sets up the story to imitate in part the happenings of Easter morning. The tomb is set in a garden, and we have Mary looking for reassurance from Jesus. I think here John is pointing forwards here in a way that is often used in the Gospels. This event then is being highlighted as a forerunner of the main event that would happen in about a week or so time. As an aside, the political nature is the reason why Lazarus was also targeted for death by the Chief Priests. He was living proof, and they needed to get rid of the evidence.
John then gives us a hint as to how we as disciples of Christ, or if you prefer an interpretation from Genesis – God’s image bearers, should respond to the gift of new life. In other words what our purpose could or should be. In Chapter 12 Mary is shown to anoint Jesus in a prophecy of his death. Mary sees at first hand who Jesus is, don’t forget she has spent time as one of his disciples confirmed in Luke 10 where she is seen sitting at Jesus’ feet. The phrase means being a disciple. Paul is described elsewhere as sitting at the feet of Rabbi Gamiliel. Mary then, in a moment of insight, after seeing her brother given back to her sees where all this is heading, and in a society where women could not speak out publically, she used symbol and picture to paint a picture worth a thousand words. She knew the cost that Jesus would pay because that is the cost that all rebels to an authoritarian system pay.
So what does this tell us. After her own personal experience of resurrection in her life, Mary continues to act in the world being with and bearing witness to Jesus. It is worth considering for a moment that all the miracles attributed to Jesus offer a new beginning. They declare evidence of the new creation. His own resurrection, when he would be raised by the Father marks the event where the new creation is instituted. The new world with Jesus at the helm. Remember from Matthew 28 “All authority in heaven AND ON EARTH has been given to me”.
In Ezekiel therefore, we are given a hint of Exodus, a resurrection for a nation. In Lazarus, we see Jesus’ claim to be “the resurrection and the life” to be upheld and to be valid. When we celebrate Easter in two weeks time, we will remember the new beginning, the Exodus of all exoduses, when God intervenes and put things right.
So what does the resurrection meant to you?
Is is a metaphorical story? Is it a means to show that Jesus was/is God? A fancy way for God to show just how powerful he is. Is it all about personal salvation? Or might it be that it the announcement that God has returned and that the Messiah reigns in his rightful place as Lord of Heaven and Earth, two parts of creation that have been rejoined. Our role as disciples is to work to reflect God’s image to others. To be Christ. To continue, with God, in the saving work that God has set in motion, in the saving of the whole of creation. That sounds like a significant purpose to me.
So I will leave you with a question. What does the resurrection mean to you?