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It's usually not called Passion Sunday these days—it's the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The Gospel is long, and is the story of Lazarus returning from the dead.

This photo of Tomb of Lazarus is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The story of Lazarus is perhaps the high point of the Gospel of John before we descend into the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. It prefigures the resurrection on Easter Day, and is one of my favourite Gospel stories.

Today in Church I was required to read the Gospel, and, as I always do, I choked up in the middle. I have been reading in churches for more than 50 years, and I am normally a good public reader—I have a loud voice, I can project it in most large spaces, and I can read with expression. I also know how to pronounce most of the difficult words that some readings contain.

But when I get to the story of Lazarus, I have to steel myself to get through it. I don't know why, but at the point where the shortest verse in the Bible comes I just cannot help myself. It's: "Jesus wept."

Jesus loved Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, but John says that he loved Lazarus too. When word came to Jesus that Lazarus had died (we aren't told from what), Jesus procrastinated for a few days. John says that Jesus wanted to show that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and by raising Lazarus bring the disciples to belief. He says, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die."

To me, this passage tells me everything I need to know about Jesus. I realise that many are not religious, or are not Christians, and I wouldn't expect everyone to believe as I do. But who cannot read this Gospel (John 11:1-44) without feeling the love that Jesus had for his friend, and his sorrow that he had been too late to keep him from death. Raising Lazarus is the ultimate gift that he can give his friend.

And who of us who has been recently bereaved, can read this Gospel without wishing for the same resurrection for their beloved friend or relative? It is an impossible wish, but we all wish it anyway, I'm sure.

When a friend or acquaintance tells me of his or her recent bereavement, I always say, "May s/he rest in peace, and rise in glory." The story of Lazarus is what gives me the authority to say this, and mean it.

We are now embarking upon the run-up to Palm Sunday and then Holy Week, with Easter Sunday on the horizon. Whether we speak of the resurrection of Christ, or the resurrection of plants and living things as Spring begins, we can recall that before a plant grows tall, it is a seed that the spring weather encourages to grow. When the plant grows seed and then dies, its seeds produce new life yet again.

I shall rejoice in the new life all around us, and in the life we enjoy in Christ. I trust that all of you will have a Springtime blessed with abundant life.

August 2017

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