THE SUN IS SHINING!
Ask anyone what they think the most important day in the year is for Christians and I suspect most will say ‘Christmas’. In contemporary culture, it has become a romantic mid-winter festival. However, the true answer – and I wish we could find ways of making this clearer – is Easter. If it hadn’t been for Easter, no one would have dreamed of celebrating Christmas. It is the moment of new creation, the first day of God’s new week. The darkness has gone, the tomb is empty, and the sun is shining!
In John’s Gospel we read the account of the raising of Lazarus. Here Jesus weeps at the grave of Lazarus his friend, before asking that the grave be reopened. Then in dramatic fashion, Jesus calls (or more literally shouts) ‘Lazarus, come out’ and he appears in his grave clothes. Jesus then calls on the mourners to ‘unbind him, and let him go.’ (John 11:44)
The raising of Lazarus is a sort of double symbol, which anticipates the resurrection of both Jesus and the believer. Like the tomb of Jesus, the tomb of Lazarus is sealed with a stone. Like Jesus he has also been bound with strips of linen cloth. Like the cloth that wrapped the head of Jesus, the cloth that wrapped the head of Lazarus is mentioned separately. However, by contrast, Lazarus walks out of the tomb still bound in his grave clothes to show that he has been raised by another’s power and will die again. Jesus leaves his grave clothes behind because he rises by his own power and will have no more need of them. This miracle is also a sign for all believers of the hope of their own resurrection.
Many today are sceptical about the fundamental aspects of the Christian Faith. However, the idea that the resurrection is no more than a metaphor for an inward spiritual experience, and nothing to do with personal survival beyond death, is not new. It was already around in ancient Corinth and has reappeared throughout the Church’s history. St Paul is scathing in his response to this view. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes,
‘If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile, …and those who have died in Christ have perished. If it is for this life only that we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ (1 Corinthians 15:17).
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul also exhorts them ‘not to grieve as those who have no hope.’ It is interesting to note that he does not say that people should not grieve. Of course, we all experience grief and pain when we are parted from our loved ones, even if in the context of faith, we see this is a temporary parting. When Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, the bystanders concluded ‘See how much he loved him!’ Jesus obviously had the capacity to grieve openly and honestly, with and for his friends.
The author Jeffrey John, when reflecting on this said.
‘When we lose someone who is worth more to us that life itself, or when the time comes for us to look our own death in the face, there is more comfort to be had in a friend who can grieve with us, than in one who simply exhorts us to have faith and be brave; and there is infinitely more in a God who does the same.’ (The Meaning in the Miracles)
Honest grief and confident hope go hand in hand. Both are expressions of the love we have for each other, and the love God has for us in this life and for eternity.
NEW ARCHDEACON – THE VENERABLE MARK HAYDEN
As I end my letter to you this month, I take this opportunity to thank Archdeacon Mark Hayden for accepting my invitation to be the next Archdeacon of Ossory and Leighlin. He has served Gorey Group of Parishes as their rector since 2001 and as a rural dean and in other capacities, he has contributed much to the life of the Diocese. He brings rich experience, as well as many skills and talents to this role. Please pray for him and for my other Archdeacon the Venerable Bob Gray, as they assist me in all that I have to do as your Bishop. Archdeacon Hayden will be licensed and installed at Evensong in St Canice’s Cathedral on Sunday 7th May at 3.00 p.m. I hope that many of his parishioners, and others from across the Diocese, will make it a priority to attend this service.
Jacqui and I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy, hope filled and joyful Easter.
Rt Revd Adrian Wilkinson