LENT 5A: The New Dead

“The Raising of Lazarus”
Fresco by Giotto di Bondone, Italian, 1304-06

Lectionary Text:  John 11: 1-4, 17-26, 41-44
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”… When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”… Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?”…So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

So, gray and brown are the new black; forty is the new thirty, fifty is the new forty, and hybrids are the new luxury car.  Things change.  The ways that we live and talk about things change.  There are always new perspectives bursting into our consciousness.  And Lazarus is the “new dead”…Let me explain…have you ever noticed the last part of this story?  “The dead man came out…”.  It is not that “Lazarus came out miraculously alive again”. He did not appear and then go back to work that day.  It says, “the dead man…”.  Lazarus was still dead the way this world thinks of dead.  Jesus did not undo his death.  The point was that Jesus turned it into something new–a new life, a new way of looking at things, a new creation.  “The dead man came out….let him go…”  We can’t even imagine how great it’s going to be. 

Today would have been my grandmother’s 102nd birthday.  She died a year ago in November.  I still miss her.  I can’t even really describe how.  We were more than grandmother and granddaughter.  We were some sort of soul mates.  I still want to call her, to talk to her.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes she made me so angry, downright infuriated me.  She had that fundamentalist bend that I just didn’t understand.  I suppose I had that progressive bend that she just couldn’t tolerate.  But we were more alike than we were unalike.  We had a kinship beyond our obvious blood connection. I enjoyed doing things for her toward the end.  I remember one time I was helping her go to the bathroom when we were away from her house.  (OK…that may be too graphic!)  But she looked up at me with those deep brown eyes and said, “You know…I used to do this with you.”  “Well then,” I responded, “it’s time I do it for you.”  Things change; people change; life changes.  I still grieve, still want to call her.  I’ve been thinking about her lately, grieving all over again.  I know she’s gone.  And yet, not…

You see, the thing we had in common was our faith.  And that faith, that shared faith, tells me that there is something new.  I don’t think this story of Lazarus was a miracle story, per se.  Jesus did not do some sort of magic trick so that Lazarus could walk out in his burial clothes.  The end of the story (although I’ve never noticed it and never even read any commentary to support this) says that Lazarus was still dead.  Death was not undone.  Lazarus did not get up and go back to his life.  Rather, death was recreated into life.  Recreation is not undoing; recreation is making something new.  There is still grief and wanting for what was, for the familiar, for the usual, for the phone conversations that we crave.  But this is better.  We justF have to live into it.  That’s what faith is about.

This story is also seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own crucifixion and raising.  It’s like he’s saying, “Folks…stay with me here.  There are things that are about to happen that are hard.  In fact, we’re fixing to go through crap.  (Sorry…couldn’t think of a better way to say it!)  Your loss will be unbearable.  And it will not be undone.  I will not pull some magic trick out of a hat at the last minute.  I will not undo my death.  But, as I said…stay with me…look what I’ve done here.  The best is yet to come!  If you stay with me, I can’t even describe the incredible things that will happen.  You just have to experience them for yourself.  Just stay with me. “

Death is not to be undone; rather, it is made new.  It is recreated into life.  It’s the “new dead.”  Isn’t that better?  Do you believe this?

So, in the Lenten season, know that the best is yet to come!

Happy Birthday Grandmother!

Grace and Peace,


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