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March 09, 2008

Passion Sunday

Passion Sunday is now drawing to a close, but the Passiontide is just beginning. This is the Sunday that marks the start of the run up to Easter. We keep this Sunday with gospel readings that include the resurrection story of Lazarus, one of the miracle signs that Christ used to signal his own resurrection. St John tells us that many who witnessed this event came to believe as a result - hardly surprising really. After all, its not every day that you open a tomb (which should by that stage be rather smelly) and the supposedly dead man walks out, still wrapped in his grave clothes. It sounds almost like something from a Stephen King novel. Yet this is the story of Lazarus and we have a number of reliable witnesses to an event which scholars have been trying to explain for centuries.

There is also the story of the widow's dead son, called back to life and restored to this "vale of tears" as the psalmist describes it. There are, of course, several aspects to both stories which we miss at this distance in time and in displacement and "Europeanisation" of the gospels. Not least being that both deaths involve the man, the bread winner, dying and leaving unsuported women to fend for themselves. That was a serious problem for the women unless they had powerful relatives or were themselves very wealthy. A poor woman left bereft like that had a major problem. The second aspect which is not addressed in these, or any of the other miracle stories, is what did the "victims" feel about it?

In the Jewish understanding of the period, the dead gathered in a place called Sheol, a place of waiting. It was not a place of "living", but a place in which the dead "waited". Both Lazarus and the widow's son seem to have experienced something very different - and both had certainly not had the classic "near death experience" but something much more profound. Sadly, we are not told what.

The third aspect is the foreshadowing of what is to come for Jesus himself. Death to be followed by a resurrection which transcends this life completely. It is that aspect which we celebrate this week and in the coming days, reliving the run up to the entry into Jerusalem, the betrayal, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and finally, on Easter day itself, the resurrection. Lent can be anything but dull!

Posted by The Gray Monk at March 9, 2008 08:56 PM

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