Sermon for Sunday, April 10, 2011 || Lent 5, Year A || John 11: 1-45
by the Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“Who is conscious every time they do something that it could be the last time they experience it? Who lives constantly with a greeting in their mouth, and a goodbye in the back of their mind? I do,” writes my Facebook friend, Kirstin.
Kirstin has Stage IV metastatic cancer. She was first diagnosed with Stage II melanoma in 2008. Last June doctors discovered it had metastasized to Stage IV lung cancer, and then this past February to her brain. Kirstin is 40-years old, staring death in the face, and yet says that she has never felt more alive:
“You don’t live like this when you’re physically healthy,” Kirstin writes in her blog. “I was never this awake to grace. I don’t want to die. But the quality of now redeems so much. I’m not asleep anymore…I’m more alive than I’ve ever been.”
Kirstin is a modern day Lazarus. No, she hasn’t actually died and been brought back to life like Lazarus in this morning’s gospel. But remember that Lazarus is restored by Jesus, not resurrected–and there’s an important distinction there. Jesus brings Lazarus back to life–but Lazarus isn’t immortal. He’s still going to die like the rest of us. He will do so in the promise of resurrection life sometime in the future—the promise of eternal life at the end of time. But in the present, in the now, Lazarus is more alive than he’s ever been.
“I am resurrection and life,” Jesus says. Resurrection then, life now.
Lazarus has been given new, restored life in the present. He is fully alive in a way that you and I can only imagine, but that Kirstin can articulate with amazing candor and grace. In her blog she writes:
Mindful time. That’s what I’m engaging in right now…I take what I know I have, which is this present breath. And I find that I do have time, in this exact now, for real life. Time to breathe, and time to say thank you. Time to walk in love…to inhabit the moment that I live in… bathed in grace and hope and love.
I doubt Lazarus could possibly have expressed it any better.
Now Kirstin, you will not be surprised to discover, is a woman of extraordinary faith. Life-giving faith. Faith that restores her. When Jesus says, “Those who trust me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and trusts me will never die,” he could certainly be talking about Kirstin.
But don’t get me wrong—Kirstin is not without doubt and fear. “I’m scared,” she wrote to me the other morning, with the same startling simplicity as this morning’s “Jesus wept.” But who wouldn’t be scared?
Yet beneath her fear Kirstin is graced with a fundamental trust in God. She trusts in God’s goodness and love. And clearly as awed as we are by her experience of feeling “more alive than ever” in the face of death, Kirstin writes that, “It’s grace and gift, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t teach myself this; I never would have thought of it. This can only be God. I turned to God when I was afraid not to. God met me in love.”
God met Kirstin in love, like Jesus met Lazarus at his tomb. Like he meets us in baptism, and in the bread and the wine. Because Kirstin is Lazarus, and of course, so are we. The question is, are we Lazarus before he comes out of his tomb or after? Are we living in the new life Christ offers us here and now? Are we fully alive in what Kirstin calls “this exact now” inhabiting each moment we live in and grateful for each present breath? Or are we, like Jesus said of Lazarus, and Kirstin said of herself before her disease, asleep? Is it true that “You don’t live like this when you’re physically healthy”?
I’ve been haunted by those words since I first read them. And I think we all probably should be. After all, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Surely, Christ didn’t become one of us to live, and die, and rise again— so we would sleep-walk through our lives in a death-like trance, as if nothing had ever happened…entombed in our limited little lives of human ambition and self-reliance, while blind to the incomprehensible beauty, love, and miracle of new life he is offering us now, in every moment!
As we turn the corner in our Gospel readings this week from Christ’s public ministry toward his journey to the cross, from his life to his death—it’s rather sobering to look at Lazarus and at Kirstin, who have turned so dramatically from death to life.
The gospel tells us that Jesus performed miraculous signs like raising Lazarus precisely so that the Son of God would be glorified and non-believers would believe. Kirstin’s new life in the face of death is an equally persuasive sign of Christ’s life-giving power. And wouldn’t we all like to be such persuasive signs of Christ’s power for others—but without having to face death head-on?
In her poem, “Communion,” Madeleine L’Engle writes of the same quality of “now-ness” that Kirstin describes, which L’Engle experiences in the Eucharist:
“Whether I kneel or stand or sit in prayer
I am not caught in time nor held in space,
But thrust beyond this posture, I am where
Time and eternity are face to face…
…Break time, break space, O wild and lovely power.
Break me: thus am I dead,
Am resurrected now in wine and bread.”
You see, we who are asleep are invited to awaken to new, restored life in Christ each time we receive the bread and wine of Eucharist. Here, we are invited to meet Jesus in the timelessness of the present. Here, we are invited to respond with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind– as he calls out to each of us, “Lazarus, come out!” Here, we are invited to embrace real life—life with Christ, in Christ, and through Christ—life fully lived to the glory of God here and now, awake in love, and alive in the life that is the light of all people.
“I need to claim Easter now,” Kirstin writes on Ash Wednesday, “because I have no idea if I’ll be here on the liturgical date….My hope is in the Resurrection; I’ll be damned if I’m putting that off for six weeks because the church tells me to.”
“What am I doing for Lent?” she asks rhetorically. “Saying ‘alleluia’ and living in the moment. Seizing the joys that I can find. Looking for perfect nows. Spending time with friends. Being alive and awake in love… resting in the presence of God. …Knowing that life and breath are gifts, even when I cough so hard in the morning that I gag getting out of my shower…Walking in the presence of beauty—because it’s easy to find when that’s all you’re looking for.”
Walking in the presence of beauty—because it’s easy to find when that’s all you’re looking for…
Sleepers, awake! Awake to the new life that Christ is offering us, here and now. Amen.