In Lent we explore some of the hardest truths about the human experience. In this season we should be stopping and facing our fears. Lent is the time to face what it means to be truly human. And not least is the human fear of death.
What then is the particularly Christian view of death I wonder? What can we learn from the temporary raising of Lazarus and from Paul’s appeal to the Romans that whilst to set our mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
What we know above all else is that the Bible tells us God did not create finality. He did not create anything with the intention it would come to an eternal end. So God did not create death in the way an atheist would see death. Death, in the language of the Bible and of the Christian, is simply a part of life in a meaningful way. It is not something to be escaped at all costs .. indeed it cannot be. Even Lazarus did not evade it completely. Our passages this morning invite us to face the fact that death is part of a journey towards Easter where our flesh is conquered and resurrection life is promised.
The story of Lazarus points us towards the conclusions that St Paul draws that ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through[k] his Spirit that dwells in you.’ In the Gospel Lazarus was called back from the dead so this morning we can believe that death is not the end because for Lazarus to return he must therefore have been somewhere else.
If you find this hard to believe .. if it seems fanciful to believe in life after death .. then consider a truth of modern engineering physics. The second law of thermodynamics which of course you all know is this .. that energy can neither be created nor destroyed it can only be transferred. If life is able to be thought of as energy we can therefore believe that life can be neither created nor destroyed only transferred. We might want to say that our life is a gift given from the source of all eternal life that we call God. And that this gift of life was never created but came from the eternal life of God and so can never be destroyed ..
In this case if death is not the end but a change of being then life is to best be seen as a bridge to something and not a destination in itself. Death is the final step in a changing state of becoming something. This is what the passage in Romans is teaching us .. that in fact although flesh decays and dies, the Spirit continues to live.
What I am suggesting this morning then is that the Christian view of what it is to be fully human is never complete until we have died. Imagine the scenario that when we die we move to a place where there are other modes of being .. say angels or cherubim … then the one of the fundamental experiences of our eternal human identity would be that we have all died. Death is a central part of being human .. Christ experienced it and he was fully human.
In Lent we acknowledge we cannot evade death. We are dust and to dust we will return. But we are not to despair of this because we begin through facing this truth to see that though our bodies become dust our life continues.. Life here is a bridge not an abode. It is why Jesus says we are pilgrims here and not residents. Death is therefore like walking off a bridge and into a new land .. we believe as Christians that the new land is eternal and is indeed an abode or a house as it were .. our fathers house.
Jesus teaches us that death is not the end .. God did not create finality … for where there is faith there is always hope and there is always love. And we know that love never fails!