Saturday, June 8, 2013

Proper 5C June 9, 2013

          Nain is to Shunem as Chunns Cove is to Haw Creek. Nain is on the northeast side of the ridge, Shunem is on the southwest side of the same ridge. Both are small communities south of Nazareth.  Both were the place of a miraculous resuscitation. Elisha, Elijah’s successor as prophet, brought back to life to son of a woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4) as Elijah brought back to life the son of the widow of Zarephath in southern Lebanon. Those are 2 of the 3 resuscitation accounts in the Old Testament. The 3rd is in 2 Kings 13. As Elijah was buried (2K13:21) “a marauding band was seen and a man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.”

There are a number of Old Testament prophecies of resurrection in the last day. In the Prayer Book Burial Office we hear Job 19:25, “I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.” Isaiah 26:19 has “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” and Daniel 12:2 says, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”

In 3 places in the New Testament Jesus raised the dead before his own resurrection Easter Day: this event in Nain, Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56, Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26) and Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44).  

          After Jesus’ resurrection, St. Matthew reports (27:52-53)  And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,  And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”  In Acts 9:36 Peter at Joppa raised Tabitha or Dorcas from the dead. “She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.”  In Acts 20:10 Paul at Troas raised Eutychus, who went to sleep during Paul’s sermon and fell out a window.  In Acts 14:19-20 Paul was beaten, stoned, and left for dead at Lystra, but “when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city.”  Paul does not use the language of new life in Galatians, but Paul’s experience of being “called through grace” and the radical change in life which followed are very like death and resurrection.  

          In St. John 5:28 Jesus said, “ the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.”  And also familiar from the Burial Office, John 14:2, “In my father’s house are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you.”

          In 1925 Eugene O’Neill wrote a play, “Lazarus Laughed.”  It is a long 4 act play with more than 100 parts and a Greek style chorus. It is more read than performed.  Lazarus’s first line is, “Laugh! Laugh with me! Death is dead! Fear is no more! There is only life! There is only laughter!” As Lazarus continues to rejoice in life those around him, caught in the fear of death, become more and more frightened and the Roman Emperor Tiberius finally had Lazarus burned to death.  The text is on line.

          But O’Neill’s play invites us to consider also the son of the widow of Nain, the son of the widow of Zarephath, the son of the woman of Shunem, the man who fell into Elisha’s grave, Jairus’ daughter, Tabitha or Dorcas, or sleepy Eutychus or Paul. What was their new life like for them?

          What did they do the next morning? Did they go on doing what they did before? How was their life different?

          Spiritually we are like all these them because we have been reborn in baptism. In baptism the old man died and we received a new spiritual life, an eternal life. Does the daily remembrance of our new life make a difference in how we live?

          Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that it is “appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” These 8 people who died once had to die a second time. This body will die, but we who are spiritually reborn in baptism will be raised to share in Christ’s eternal life.

          Six years ago last October I had surgery on my pancreas for a non-malignant growth and spent 3 months recovering. That experience reminds me that every new day is a gift from God. We all know that, but serious illness is a powerful reminder. I think resuscitation after death was also, at the least, a powerful reminder.

          We are reminded of God’s continuing love and providence. We are reminded to focus our attention on God who gives life. We are reminded that God gives us life and all that we have for God’s purpose – that we may love and serve God with all we are and all we have, and our neighbor as ourselves.

          As we will say at the end of today’s service, “And now, Father, send us out, to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To  him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.” Amen.

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