It is a great privilege to welcome the baptism family and friends to St Mary’s Fawley this morning on this very special day. According to the baptism book, FB is the 399th person to be baptised here since 1910. Baptisms are a delightful occasion in the life of the church as well as being quite a serious one too.
Parents and godparents Simon you are making some considerable promises to God and to FB this morning. You are putting yourself on the hook for guiding and teaching him throughout his life in the ways of the Christian faith. This is more than being a good and nice person with an understanding of Christian virtues and morals.
Fortunately, we are off to a good start this morning with our Gospel reading. This is a rather long and well-known passage of John’s Gospel. I chose to read it from the Children’s Bible that I will present at the end of the service; as I was quite surprised by the depth this version goes to. Often the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus gets reduced down to a miracle story of Jesus. An impressive miracle story of course. However some of the more important parts get left out.
Jesus is our friend. I baptised two brothers a couple of years ago and I asked the older one what does it mean to get baptised? He paused for a moment. Then with the biggest smile on his face, he said, ‘it means that I am Jesus’ friend forever and Jesus is my friend forever.’
Jesus is the friend that will never leave us. Jesus loved his disciples and his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He spent his life travelling around and teaching them so they could pass on the message to others. Mary, Martha & Lazarus appear to have been particularly close friends as Jesus is known to have stayed with them and they are mentioned by name.
Jesus does not always do what we want him to, when we want him to. The fact that Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick and did not immediately rush to his bedside, but waited for two more days is awkward. We have this idea that God should act and react whenever we summon him to meet our needs and wants. When this does not happen, people get angry and God takes the blame for all failures and misfortune.
There were reasons why Jesus did not rush off: the disciples were afraid that the Jews were going to stone Jesus (we are getting rather close to Easter) and they were quite far away from Bethany at the time. Jesus tells the disciples that, ‘this illness does not lead to death, but rather it is for God’s glory, so the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
There are things that we will never understand about how God and Jesus work on this side of death. We do not know how God’s glory fully works. It is good to be curious so that we can begin to understand and that comes through learning about Jesus by looking at this life.
This past week a lovely Priest friend of mine collapsed and died at his home. Leonard was married with three teenagers; he is a much loved parish priest just outside of Reading. He was a very good friend to me during a difficult time when we were training together in Oxford. I have been so incredibly sad through to raging mad over his death. It makes no sense and all I can see is the unfairness, the injustice of it. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, what is wrong with my friend Leonard?!
Everyone who trusts in Jesus will live forever. The pinnacle of John 11 is in the words of Martha as she knows that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Despite her distress, her sadness and her request that seemed to go unanswered; Martha understands, at least on some level, that death is not the end of the story.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. As he says, ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha believes this. I happen to believe this. I am confident that other people in church today believe this. Do you?
This, ultimately, is what FB will need to come to understand about the Christian faith. The resurrection is the central event that everything about Christianity hangs on. Part of baptism is being prepared for death; the water represents the washing of sin and death to self. This is not easy and needs to be done daily. We all make mistakes, fall short, mess it up and we need to make amends for that. As lovely as FB is, he will not always be the delightful little cherub we see in front of us today. In his life, FB will need to forgive and be forgiven. He, like us all, will have to die to ourselves.
We will all experience physical death in this life; the death of those that we love and our own. How do we make sense of it? Unfortunately most of the popular narrative around death today is painfully lacking and brushed over.
In light of my friend’s death, belief in the resurrection is the only thing that has brought any comfort at all. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I have no questions or qualms over the fact that as bad as it is right now, my dear friend Leonard is now living in the light of the resurrection.
Jesus cried. People sometimes get the impression that God is somehow removed, distant from us or worse, not particularly interested in what is going on down here. If we want to know what God is like, then we need to look at the person of Jesus. In Jesus we see love and compassion, forgiveness for those who want it and boundless patience. Jesus was so moved by the broken hearts of those around him, he cried.
Jesus is not afraid of bad smells. FB will need to know that nothing is beyond God’s reach, nothing he can ever do or not do, say, think, act is too much or too bad. He is loved by God unconditionally forever. As much as you love him, God loves him more! Trying to out-love God will keep you occupied for the rest of your lives.
Jesus can raise people from the dead. Jesus can and did raise people from the dead on a few occasions. Miraculous! However, they went on to die again another day. Jesus also raises people from spiritual death who do go on to live forever. This is out of love, the most extraordinary love we will ever know. I hope that you go from here today knowing how much you are loved by God. Go and share that love.