Rev'd Rory Redmayne
Quite aside from the depth of its contents, the gospel of John is the most beautiful piece of literature.
St John has a very clear focus on what he is trying to achieve, and he sets that out plainly at the end of his gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”, (Jn 20:30f).
And John keeps this purpose firmly in mind as he writes his account of the life of Jesus.
What he shows us it that Jesus himself intended to reveal explicitly just who he, the Son of God, is, and so to display for all to see the true character of God Himself.
One key feature in the teaching of Jesus as reported by John is Jesus on eight occasions describing himself in phrases beginning with the Greek words έγώ έίμί - “I am ”.
Now this is a very deliberate phrase.
It’s not like, “I’m rather tired today”.
Rather, Jesus is specifically saying something emphatic about just who He is, what is the essence of his being.
For examples, He says:
“Έγώ έίμί the bread of life”, (Jn 6:35).
“Έγώ έίμί the light of the world”, (Jn 8:12).
“Έγώ έίμί the resurrection and the life”, (Jn 11:25).
Now these eight “Έγώ έίμί ” statements don’t of course sit as isolated statements.
They invariably occur in the context of teaching which makes their significance clear.
So when Jesus says, “Έγώ έίμί the good shepherd”, (Jn 10:11), He goes on to talk about the character of a shepherd which makes shepherd an appropriate description of Himself, and therefore of God.
In addition to his teaching around the eight “Έγώ έίμί ” statements, on three occasions he puts the “Έγώ έίμί ” statements and their associated teaching alongside a miracle, typically called in John’s gospel a ‘sign’.
Those three occasions are the “Έγώ έίμί ” statements I mentioned earlier - “Έγώ έίμί the bread of life”, “Έγώ έίμί the light of the world”, and “Έγώ έίμί the resurrection and the life”.
“Έγώ έίμί the bread of life” was the illustrated by the sign in which Jesus fed the 5000.
“Έγώ έίμί the light of the world” preceded the sign in which Jesus healed the man born blind - we heard about that last week.
And “Έγώ έίμί the resurrection and the life” we heard in today’s gospel as Jesus prepared to call Lazarus, four days dead, from the tomb.
For the rest of today’s sermon I am going to focus on this last example - the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
The first question to deal with, if only for the sake of not ignoring it, is ‘did Lazarus really rise from the dead’ or is the account in John’s gospel “merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” - to quote from the Mikado!
There would be plenty who would say, “don’t be ridiculous; people don’t rise from the dead”.
But for myself, I would say, “yes, it’s hard to believe, but that’s only because we are not used to people rising from the dead. What we need to remember is that we are talking here about the work of God; and if God chooses to do an unique work then that is what will happen and our appropriate response should be awe, not scepticism.
There isn’t the time today to argue the reality of the resurrection of Lazarus in greater depth.
Rather let me just say that both this great sign and the associated “Έγώ έίμί” statement, “ Έγώ έίμί the resurrection and the life” serve to embody the teaching about the character of Jesus, and therefore of God.
While the teaching about this aspect of Jesus’ character is literally brought to life by the resurrection of Lazarus, actually the teaching is still true whether or not Lazarus rose from the dead.
The point is this: the resurrection of Lazarus is a physical sign of the spiritual reality of new life in Christ for everyone.
In the forgiveness effected and assured by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the experience of the Church and of individual Church members of the empowering of the Holy Spirit, we can know that we too can be raised from spiritual death - called out of the tomb, as it were - unbound and set free.
It is in God’s character to want to do this; it is in God’s power to do it.
We don’t even have to ask.
Like Lazarus, summoned from the grave, all we have to do is obey the summons of God:
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Rev. 3:20).
My message to you is, “turn door handle - wiped with antiseptic wipes of course - and open the door”! God will come in.