Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Judica - The Fifth Sunday In Lent / The First Sunday In Passiontide (Lent 5)
John 12:1-2; Acts 20:7-12; Revelation 3:14-22
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This evening’s Gospel was selected because of the presence of a certain man reclining at table with Jesus. That man was Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, whom He had raised from death. However, to understand the full significance of this table fellowship, it is necessary to read backward a bit into St. John’s Gospel. For, this meal is the culmination of a long, and heightening, discourse of conflict between Jesus and the religious leadership of the Jews, a conflict that began back in chapter six of the Gospel, where Jesus performed the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. In that miracle, Jesus began to teach the people about the true life that He came to bring to those who will put their trust in Him saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Lazarus had died. Jesus permitted him to die. And, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by the power of His Word – For, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And so, there is Lazarus, the man who died, but is alive, reclining at table with Jesus, the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. Lazarus is the living proof of Jesus’ teaching in the Feeding of the Five Thousand, for, he is not alive because of the worldly bread that he ate, or the worldly things that he did, or by the power and works of any man, but he is alive by the power and the work of God’s Word, Jesus, alone – a life Lazarus received as a gift by faith and trust in Jesus alone. “It is the Spirit who gives life;” says Jesus, “the flesh is no help at all. The Words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. […] This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Lazarus at table, dining with Jesus, is the meaning of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Lazarus at table, dining with Jesus, is what Jesus came to make possible for all whom the Father grants to come to Him, even you.
The whole point of Jesus’ sign of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is that Jesus is the true Manna of God, even the Bread of Life, the Word of God, made visible and tangible and edible, for the life of the world, of which a man may eat and live. Of any other bread, men eat and die. But, of Jesus, the Bread of Life, men eat and live, so that, even though they die, they shall live forever, for all who live and believe in Him shall never die. In John’s Gospel, it is precisely this teaching of Jesus that so confounded and scandalized the Jews that many who had followed Him, followed Him no longer. For, they knew that only God could give life, and Jesus claimed to be the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. Abraham was a man of God, and He died. The Prophets were men of God, and they died. King David was a man of God, and he died too. Yet, Jesus claimed that He was the Bread of Life, the Word of God in human flesh, who alone could conquer death and bestow new and everlasting life. Was Jesus greater than Abraham, the Prophets, and David? Was Jesus the Messiah, the Christ of God? Yes! That is precisely whom Jesus claimed to be! Indeed, in, perhaps, the climatic moment of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus was confronted by the scribes and the Pharisees with these very accusations, Jesus even invoked God’s Divine Name saying, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” And so, the Jews picked up stones to throw at Him for the sin of blasphemy. And, when they murdered Him on Good Friday, they knew precisely who He claimed to be. Perhaps, they even believed Him.
That is why they wanted to murder Lazarus. Lazarus was living proof of Jesus’ Words, “I am the Bread of Life,” “If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever.” “And so, six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at table.” It was the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week – the Saturday that is coming up for us in three days. The Jewish religious leadership wanted to kill Jesus before the Passover, seven days later, and they wanted to kill Lazarus who was the living proof of the truth of Jesus’ Words. Jesus had taught, “I am the Bread of Life,” “If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever,” – and there was Lazarus, who was dead, alive, reclining and dining at table with Jesus, the Bread of his life, and the life of all men who trust in Him.
These are not just words. And, Jesus’ teaching is not symbolic, nor is it an allegory. Jesus truly is the Bread of Life, the Word of God made flesh, of which a man may eat and live. He is not merely alluding to the Lord’s Supper, but He is the Lord’s Supper, both Host and Meal. This meal is not merely a memorial as some are want to believe, but it is what Jesus says it is – forgiveness, life, and salvation. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John, writing in the late first, and early second, centuries referred to the Holy Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ.” That was true for Lazarus and the first century Jews and early Christians, that was true for Ignatius and the Fathers of the Church, that was true for Luther and the Reformers, and that is true for you and I today, and for our children and our children’s children tomorrow, until the Lord returns in glory and we will all recline together with Him in His Father’s house forever.
Your new life, begun in Holy Baptism, is nourished, strengthened, kept, preserved, and protected in this Holy Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper is not just something you do out of obedience to your Lord. It is not just something that you do out of love for your Lord. It is not just something you do to receive the forgiveness of your sins. Of course, the Lord’s Supper is all of these things, and so much more! But, first, and foremost, the Lord’s Supper is your life, both now, and through, and after death. It is as necessary as eating, drinking, and breathing – Man does not live by bread alone, but man does indeed live by the Word of God, and the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, the Bread of life of which a man may eat – must eat – and live.
In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul stopped to preach and teach at a congregation in Troas in Asia Minor on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. There was a young man there named Eutychus was overcome by sleep as St. Paul preached and talked on through the evening. I’m certain that most of you can empathize with young Eutychus. And, so it happened that he fell asleep, and he tumbled out of a third-story window, and he died. Eutychus physically died. And yet, St. Paul comforted the congregation saying, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then, St. Paul celebrated the Eucharist with the congregation, a meal at which young Eutychus, raised from death, also communed.
Death is real. Death still happens. Death is what we have earned and merited for our sins. But, death is not the end of the story. Death is not the end of your life. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death. You have been baptized into Jesus’ resurrection. The life you now live is bound up in Him. The life you now live will never die. Yes, your body will die, – in time, you will be thankful for that – but your soul, your spirit, will never die. Indeed, your soul and spirit have already died, and have already begun a life that will never end. And the source and food of your life is Jesus, His body and His blood, the Word of God made flesh, and the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live.
You see, the Holy Eucharist is the resurrection and the life now, even as it is a foretaste of the resurrection and the life that is to come. To eat and to drink Jesus’ body and blood is to commune with Him, so that His life is your life – life that physical death cannot end or take away. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Do you believe this? Then let us approach the Lord’s Supper with reverence and joy, for it is Jesus’ life given us to eat and drink and live. And let us receive the Lord’s Supper, not in mere remembrance or obedience, but as our life, now, and until, through, and beyond physical death, to the resurrection of our bodies and to life everlasting. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.