How do you celebrate when something good happens? A glass of bubbly? If you are a bit mean like me it is Prosecco. Or is it a cup of tea? It always staggers me how some footballers celebrate when they have scored a goal. Yes I know they tend to hug one another or fall in a pile on the scorer. But it is the ones who run to the corner flag and slide on their knees toward their supporters that really gets me. Although I am only watching, my knees feel the impact with the ground and I shudder. I think that they will come to regret that action in later life.
Yes we perform certain actions when good things happen. But we also say things and even if it hasn’t happened to us, but we hear about it, we respond.
Some years ago after I had retired, I used to play the piano at a nursery school one morning a week so that the children knew that music didn’t always come from a machine. There was a three year old who had major problems who called me Mrs. Piano and he was a gem. We had been singing songs about sailing on the sea and I told the children that I had recently been under the sea. The channel tunnel had just opened and we had used it to get to France. The children asked me if I saw any fish to which I replied no and my friend asked if I got wet. When I said no he looked at me put his hands on his hips and said “no fish not wet – Flippin heck!”
For a long time at the nursery and at home any event which caused surprise was known as a “flippin heck” moment.
Last month at Mothers’ Union we saw a film of refugee children opening the Christmas boxes which had been filled with toys and goodies by people in this country like the ones filled by people from this church. As the children opened them and lifted out the toys, their eyes lit up and they all said one word WOW. A universal cry that something wonderful, something they never expected had happened for them.
It was certainly a WOW moment.
I think at the end of our gospel reading there would have been a wow moment for Martha, Mary and the disciples.
Let’s look at the story. Jesus had been with his disciples and he told them that his friend Lazarus had been ill and died and they should go to see him although to do so could well be dangerous. When they arrived at Bethany they found that Lazarus had been dead for some four days and was in the tomb. It was the belief of Jews that after four days the spirit would have left the body. There was no doubt that Lazarus was dead.
Martha rushes out to Jesus and rebukes him saying if you had been here he would not have died. Later Mary comes out to Jesus also informs him that if he had been there Lazarus would not have died.
Jesus saw her weeping and he too was distressed. They went with all the mourners of whom there would be many and all wailing, to the tomb. The tomb would have been a cave with shelves inside on which bodies were laid and a stone would have been rolled across the opening. Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away. Martha, always practical, says that there will be a smell because the body has been in four days and Jesus rebukes her. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus then prays to his Father thanking him for hearing the prayers and calls “Lazarus come out”. And the dead man came out with strips of linen round his hands and his feet and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them take off the grave clothes and let him go.
People had been mourning the death of a brother, a friend a neighbour and suddenly there he was amongst them. What would their reaction be? Shock, amazement, fear, surprise probably all of those but I have no doubt some would have said WOW or the Jewish equivalent.
It was miraculous. But what is a miracle? Something for which we can find no logical explanation? That we do not believe can happen? Something we cannot understand? Is something that is a miracle to one person not a miracle to another? Is something that is a miracle at one time, no longer a miracle when the explanation is discovered?
In the papers some time ago there was the story of a lady who had gone blind in middle age and been blind for many years. Then she had a heart attack and when she came round she could see. She was jubilant, seeing her husband for the first time for years, even though obviously, he was older and seeing her grandchildren for the first time. The doctors could give no explanation for the return of her sight and to the lady it was a miracle. A life changing miracle.
My mother had family members who emigrated to California at the beginning of the last century. She never saw them or heard them speak again. Now when my daughter is in California I can see her easily on Skype or facetime. That seems common place to us but I am sure that my mother who was born in the nineteenth century would find such communications across the globe miraculous. My mother was by no means unintelligent but these things were outside her expectations. What we think of today as miraculous may not appear so in the future.
I do believe that what is identified at one moment in time as miraculous may well not be later, that what appears as miraculous to one person may not to another. But for those who experience something that is at that moment beyond their belief, expectation and explanation, it is miraculous. And I do not believe that you can persuade someone to believe in a miracle by argument. By definition it is a step of faith.
Either we accept that Jesus performed miracles or we dismiss the reports of his powers. Yet, people other than the gospel writers, made reports of this man Jesus who did wondrous deeds and attracted a large following, notably the historian Josephus whose comments on other aspects of life at the time of Christ are highly regarded. Would this have happened if there was no truth in the healing and wonders brought about by Jesus?
Theologians have argued over the years how the raising of Lazarus occurred, especially as it is only reported in one of the gospels even though it was obviously a highly significant event. However, I am not proposing to enter that debate right now. Enough to say it was a miracle, a miracle which brought new life to someone who was dead.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus himself had told people that miracles would be one sign of his messiahship. And there is no doubt that some people believed in Jesus and followed him after seeing him perform miracles and they certainly did so after the raising of Lazarus.
But increasing the numbers of his followers, demonstration of power, satisfying curiosity, were not the prime reasons why Jesus performed miracles. There were two main reasons for the miracles. Primarily to bring aid to those in need. Think of the people he healed including as we heard last week healing the blind man. Think of the others who were brought back to life and even in turning the water into wine his concern was not to show power but to come to the aid of a family. Jesus performed those miracles out of compassion.
Power from God
And miracles were also a source of teaching. The miracle described in our reading today is teaching that Jesus’ power comes from God. He prayed to his Father before calling out Lazarus. It demonstrated that all he did was in God’s hands. It also teaches of the power of Jesus to transform lives if faith is there. Mary and Martha both had faith in the power of Jesus.
And what of us today, do we believe that Jesus can achieve miracles? Now, today here in Bury? I read in the Bury Times of the Syrian family who escaped warfare and devastation in their own town. They finally arrived in Bury where they were befriended by Christians. Here they are now ready to establish a business in Bury market. They believe that Jesus has brought them here and ensured their future. Yes they have been given practical help by human hands. But they will be in no doubt that what has happened to them is miraculous.
And sometimes a miracle does not have to be of major proportions. It can be a simple change of attitude, a realisation that we can do something that we thought impossible. I would never have thought that I would be standing in this pulpit preaching. I don’t know if that counts as a miracle but something pushed me into doing it.
We are indeed blessed in that, like Mary and Martha, we can turn to Jesus for help wherever we meet him. That doesn’t have to be in a church, it can be anywhere, at work at home or even walking round the Lido. Today Jesus can turn despair into hope, sadness into joy, death into life, captivity into freedom and hatred into love.
And if we have faith and trust in him, his power can enter our lives, granting us through the abundant riches of his grace, transformation in our lives.
This coming week will we encounter Jesus and will we have a WOW moment. Amen