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Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Evangelical Lutheran Bishop, Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)
 biography

John 11, 25-26 
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

 
Dear brothers and sisters,
It is wonderful that I can address you this way, that I can call you brothers and sisters. This is not natural. Normally, coming from a different counry, meeting people from many other counries with very different backgrounds, I would have to keep much more distance and maybe begin my words with a polite “Ladies and Gentlemen”! But I am not just giving a speech. I am not just addressing people in a different country as a guest speaker. No, I am truly speaking to you as your brother. I am speaking to you as a brother in Christ. When I preach to people whom I don’t know, who live far away from me, whose life experience is very different, who maybe have a different skin color than I do, and nevertheless have this feeling of closeness, I think every time, how wonderful it is. 
 
When I preach to people who would normally come from a different world but to whom I feel so connected, it is like a miracle to me. It is a miracle that I feel so close to you that I can even call you “brothers and sisters”.
The miracle of us being together as brothers and sisters here in Madrid today has a name. The name of this miracle is Jesus Christ. “I am the resurrection and the life.” – says Jesus. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Yes, our Christian ecumenical convention here is an experience of resurrection. Because it is an experience of love and friendship and solidarity in Christ in a world in which there is so much injustice, hate and violence. Love is stronger than hate. Death is not God’s last word but life. Those who now cry and mourn will be comforted and will experience the joy of the kingdom of God. That is the promise when Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
 
To understand this, let’s remember for a moment what happened in Jerusalem about 2000 years ago when Jesus preached the gospel in the Holy Land of Israel. We have four different reports of what happened at that time: the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. All these reports tell us about the fascination which the people felt when they met Jesus. Jesus was a man who radiated love with an intensity which they had never experienced. 
He did not put people down, not even sinners. But he accepted them with all their limitedness and helped them to be reintegrated in the community. He encouraged people to overcome hate and even love their enemies because God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Mt 5,45). And he gave the people hope. “God’s kingdom has come near” – he said. And you need not fear anymore because God is with you every day and keeps you and sustains you.
 
This was the message Jesus preached to the people. And they were so inspired by this message that everywhere he came thousands of people showed up to listen to him and feel how their souls were relieved. How love and joy came back in their lives.
Now, the authorities at Jesus’ time did not like this. They were afraid to lose control. So they decided to arrest him. He was tormented and crucified. And he died with a cry of despair: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
 
Jesus, the son of God, himself, went through the experience of absolute despair. He knows how we feel sometimes. He knows how we as children of God sometimes don’t understand what God is doing. He knows how we cry when one of our loved ones is dieing. He knows the dark clouds that come up when we lose hope in our soul and cannot leave this feeling behind us. He knows how powerless we feel when there is division and conflict in our families and love seems to just fade. He knows how we despair when we see injustice, violence and poverty in our own lives, right around us, or in the world. He knows how it feels when God seems absent.
Jesus knows all this because Jesus himself felt forsaken by God. 
And then, the miracle happened. Death did not prevail. God’s love was stronger than death. By the power of God Jesus rose from death. Nobody can explain scientifically what happened. But after Jesus’ friends and family had taken his dead body down from the cross, they buried him in a grave behind a big rock. When Jesus’ friend and follower Mary came to the grave again the next morning, the rock was gone, and the grave was open. And it was empty! She was terrified and did not understand what had happened. But then she encountered Jesus. It took her a while to recognize him but when he called her by her name, she understood that it was Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead! As soon as her soul had really understood this good news, she ran to the disciples and told them about it. In the days afterwards the disciples themselves saw Jesus and he talked to them. And he said: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Since then, we know: Jesus is not among us anymore in flesh. But the risen Jesus is with us in spirit every time two or three of us are gathered together in his name (Mt 18,20).
And this is what we experience today. The women have told the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples. They spread the message all over Israel. The Apostle Paul brought it to Europe. It was spread to all continents of the world. So that we can now all be together today and celebrate this message of love and hope which makes us all to brothers and sisters.
 
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Let us live this message! Let us be advocates of life in the world. When people hate, let us love. When people fight, let us reconcile. When people take whatever they can for themselves, let us share. When we see tears in the eyes of our neighbor, let us comfort him or her. When we hear people say that the world is violent and dark and we have to accept it, then, let us protest and object and speak of the upcoming kingdom of God. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be salt of the earth and light of the world as Jesus has called us to be!
When we go home after these days here in Madrid, let us pray for each other, let us support each other, let us live a life of witness to Jesus Christ and his love. Let us live in the deep knowledge of our souls that through Jesus God’s love is always with us. “Neither death”, says the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, “nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8,38).
Now, brothers and sisters, let us praise the Lord! Let us listen to the music and experience how the music opens our hearts to the joy of God! Let us never forget, that, where ever we live, we are brothers and sisters in Christ!
 
AMEN