Welcome to the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days that lead us up to Easter. It has connections with Jesus’ time in the desert after his baptism. It is usually marked as a time of fasting, abstinence, and penitence. This time of Lent is set aside for Christians to take time out of their busy lives and reflect and prepare for the death and resurrection of the Messiah. You will hear quite often that people give up something for Lent, my continual challenge is to take up some spiritual discipline for Lent. This can be a time of turning back to God. Here at Murrumbeena we have a change of theme, backgrounds and focus. Not to mention a change of colour. Our Lenten readings from John can make us dizzy with all the images of turning. Now, being able to turn quickly and adjust or see something with new eyes is a skill we are getting used to using. It is a positive of living through a pandemic.
In these next weeks of Lent we will see God turning towards humanity’s pain as Jesus weeps at raw and unbearable grief; Jesus turning the stench of Lazarus’ death into something confusingly hopeful; Jesus turning into a servant, stooping to wash feet, turning clear water brown with the disciples gathered dust, and turning them toward loving and serving their neighbour.
We also read of humanity’s turning away: Peter turning his back on his best friend; Pilate turning and twisting the truth for political gain; the fickle and riled up crowds turning from “hosanna” to “crucify.’’ Then the turning of the earth as grave becomes garden, death turns to life, mourning to dancing.
John’s Gospel invites us into a season of intentional turning. Our hearts turn with compassion for those who grieve. Our lives turn toward our neighbour in acts of solidarity and service. Our eyes turn toward the cross and we see Jesus turning the world upside down with love.
In today’s reading of the raising of Lazarus. It is the turning of death into life, and we have the declaration that this Jesus is indeed the Messiah. This is also a passage that could be said grounds Jesus a little more in the world of the day. We hear some reluctance from Jesus to travel to Bethany when he first hears of Lazarus’ illness and then we are told of his grief when he finally arrives to hear that Lazarus has died and is buried.
There is an equally powerful and utterly earthbound theme in this Gospel of love that won’t let Jesus drift away from what love looks and feels and sounds and smells like in the flesh and blood truth of life as we live it. This is the Jesus that loses his cool and flips tables in the temple. It’s also the Jesus that finds himself unaccountably disturbed—even greatly so—at the sealed-up tomb of Lazarus as he stands beside the deeply grieving sisters who refuse to let him minimise the awfulness of their pain and the depth of their love.
This is one of the ongoing stories in John that tells us of the way Jesus learns to be human and truly experiences our life as well.