We have just added our daily Morning Prayer to the podcast on our website, together with a reflection for today by Rev Oliver Folkard (read by Francis). To hear the podcast, please open the website and choose the item you would like to listen to by clicking the relevant link on the right hand side of the front page. Oliver’s reflection is also provided below in written format, and as a downloadable PDF document here.
Reflection on John Chapter 11: the story of Lazarus by Revd Oliver Folkard
It feels strange to be delivering a “silent sermon” like this, but then these are strange times unlike anything that any of us have experienced before. The strangeness comes partly from the physical distancing we need to observe but also from the emotional or psychological distancing this creates. No hugs, no handshakes, no close conversations in the street. The internet and the phone are working overtime as we try to cheer each other up and care for one another. The physical and psychological separation are both part of the same strange situation we find ourselves in because we are both minds and bodies.
The story of the raising of Lazarus, as well as other things, is about the unity of mind and body. We are whole people who need bodies to be us at all, just as much as we need minds and spirits and they cannot be separated out from each other. That helps make clear how precious and important the physical world is. Our bodies are us, we are our bodies and they depend on and function as part of the whole physical environment – which is one reason why we should respect the environment.
One striking thing about the story of Lazarus is how physical, how tangible it all is. Lazarus is not a ghost or a spirit; he is a man still tangled up in the grave cloth he had been buried in. It is the same with Jesus after his resurrection. He ate and drank. He carried the marks of his woulds. Mary Magdalene even recognised him in the garden by the sound of his voice.
Resurrection is not the same thing as immortality.
Having said that we are all one – there cannot be a separate bit of us that floats away from the rest of us and survives death. Resurrection is the resurrection of ‘the flesh.’ Since we are our bodies, since God has come to us as Jesus in this world of material bodies and since he goes on using material things and people to communicate to us who and what “he” is, we cannot suppose that life with him will ever by-pass our material life.
The Bible, in fact, talks rather less about heaven than it does about a renewal of creation; in other words, life with God is life in a world that has something in common with the world we inhabit now. When we start trying to imagine what that might be like, we cannot really manage it. Rowan Williams once wrote: “ The path to thinking about eternal life is strewn with cowpats and elephant traps; yet there it is, in Bible and Creed, – the resurrection of the flesh.”
What we can say is that the life of the resurrection will be social and sociable – no ‘social isolation.’ We are who we are because we live in relationship with other people and and the world around us, our environment.
They help to make us who we are, as also does our relationship with God; a relationship made visible by how we conduct our everyday relationships.
And this doesn’t stop being so: Life with God after death will still be life in a context, an environment and in relationship with things and people. How that works we don’t know, but we can say that God does not redeem us by making us stop being what we are. He holds on to us through death and he holds onto the whole of us. Whatever life with God is, it cannot be less than the life we already know now, precious as that is. The life of the integrated body and spirit.
So in summary, it isn’t as if part of us falls away like a husk to leave an ‘immortal soul’ still there. The soul is not the one bit of us that survives; rather the soul represents all that we are. It is the precious possibility of relationship with God that is there in the whole of our human nature. However it may be, God is trustworthy. He creates us. He loves us. He is committed to who and what he has created and loved and worked with. He does not let us go. So ultimately we believe in the resurrection and in eternal life not because of anything we know about human beings but because of what we believe about God.