Sermon preached by
I wonder how many of you have seen the latest advertisement for the new Microsoft Xbox Game machine. I had heard people talk about it and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A woman has a baby, the baby shoots out of the delivery room, across the sky; with the baby progressing through all the ages of man until at old age it crashes into a prepared grave.
The only words 'Life is short, play more - Xbox'
The message works because we all know that time is short, life is not a rehearsal, you will never have the chance to live today again, so get the most out of life. The advertisement is, as one would expect for the launch of a product of such critical importance to Microsoft, very clever. It latches on to one of the most powerful human centres of emotion, the awareness and fear of death. This is our weak spot. We can do all manner of things but at the end we are just frail decaying mortals.
'Death and taxes' as the phrase goes, are the two things we are all assured of.
As human beings we find it wrong. Why should death triumph?
I was reading this week about Monique Martinot, who died in 1984. Since then her husband Dr. Raymond Martinot has kept her body frozen in a metal box in the cellars of his Loire Chateaux near Samur, awaiting future medical miracles which might restore his wife. The authorities when they found out were not pleased. They wanted Dr. Martinot to comply with French law which says that a body must be buried or cremated within six days. That was until 22 February when Dr. Martinot sadly died as well. Now his son has them both in the freezer. Medical authorities were reported as saying the idea of bringing them back to life was preposterous, it would be 'like taking a frozen hamburger and turning it back into a cow.' Who knows, given the wonders of modern cloning techniques which would once have been unthinkable.
But we do want to conquer death and of course cryogenics (the deep freezing of human bodies) is big business in America, It demonstrates the human desire for life, beyond death.
When I visit the crematorium at Bedford, I usually arrive about the time that the previous service is drawing to a close. After the mourners have left I go in the chapel and start putting out my books. Occasionally I am admonished by Linda if I leave the door open. The people for the next service must not be allowed in before the coffin has been removed and of course even if the curtains are closed, we don't want them to hear.
Bedford Cemetery, Norse Road, is one of the best graveyards I have visited, the graveside is always well prepared with carpet and matting. This is very commendable, and some of this is very necessary, but of course behind it we must realise are complex issues about death. I guess that it will not be long before families are offered a tent over the grave to prevent them from getting wet.
On one hand this is thoughtful, but behind it lies the same process which has resulted in the hospitalisation of death. This is the desire to remove us as much as possible from the business of death. We are increasingly going to try to make the process of burial and cremation easier to deal with because we find death so hard.
We had a slide this week in our chapel series (the 2002 Lent Course: Credo) entitled simply, 'by this time next year some of us may have kept our appointments with death.'
This is a difficult phrase, but of course we don't need to be reminded, because we already know. So tell me about resurrection and I am interested. What is going on when Jesus takes a body and raises it up from death? Here is an answer to the greatest searching which humankind has ever undertaken.
The disciples knew that the life giving power of Jesus held the answer to the greatest desire of humankind. Little wonder that they placed so much on the validity of the resurrection.
'If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.' 1 Corinthians 15:14
The centrality of resurrection is beyond doubt for the Christian faith, it is this which answers our greatest fear and longing. The triumph over the grave is one of the continuing assurances given to the church
Revelation 21:4 In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men.
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
The grave for us is not the last stop, it is simply the point at which we end our human journey and take hold of the hand of God. It is not the final destination, because Jesus promises that he will raise us from death. In the Gospel of John the miracles are presented as events which clearly took place, but the miracles themselves are really signs to a greater truth. Raising Lazarus was a big deal, but actually it was only a warm up exercise for the real thing. We all know that Lazarus is eventually going to die again. The real miracle was what Jesus was going to make available ----------- everlasting life.
In our reading from the New International Version of the Bible this morning we are told that Jesus was 'deeply moved in spirit and troubled' at the grave scene. The Greek word enebrimesato (the aor. mid of enebrimeomai) has the meaning of 'to snort with anger.'
Why was Jesus angry? I would suggest that when he who is the Resurrection and the Life walked into a funeral scene he would be angry. Death is the opposite of what Jesus is about. Put a vegetarian in a meat market and they would feel the same, it's the same thing. Jesus is angry at death and at the hopelessness which it creates in those who stand around and wail.
John's Gospel often has miracles pointing to even more important messages. The miracles are signposts for those who want to follow them, and they lead us into important truths about God. The miracle today is not that Lazarus was raised, it is that we can experience that resurrection life too. Death has lost its sting for us! This is the message of our faith which is so important.
Jesus did a very clever thing in making Lazarus live again, the most wonderful thing however, is that Jesus gives to us a whole new way of looking at death, a whole new way of appreciating life. To go one step further the miracle for you this morning will take place when you determine to live your life in the presence of Christ. To seek to follow him in the way of eternal life. If we want to finish our sermon this morning with a punch line, then it comes courtesy of Microsoft.