Scripture Text: John 11: 33-44
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
This has always been at the very least a strange story to me. I think I once had some image of Lazarus walking out of the tomb, with tattered grave clothes dangling and an unbearable stench following him, and then dressing and sitting down for a nice fish dinner with Jesus and his sisters. But the Scripture is not here to show us magic or to in some way depict a God that with the veritable snap of a finger can just put everything back like it was before. (Well, I don’t know, I supposed God CAN, but why? That’s not really the way God works. God has something much better in store.) This story is taken as a precursor to Jesus’ own Resurrection. It was Jesus’ way of promising life. But, ironically, it is also the act that turns the tide toward Jesus’ demise. Here, standing within two miles or so from Jerusalem, the journey as we know it begins to wind to an end. Even now, the Sanhedrins are gathering their swords and the night is beginning to fall. And Jesus is grieving. As one who is fully human, Jesus fully experienced loss and grief.
So, why would Jesus do that? Surely, he knew what might happen. Surely, he knew how many red flags his presence near Jerusalem had already raised. And what about Lazarus? Who was this mysterious man whose main part in the whole Biblical story is to die and be raised? Why do this with someone as seemingly insignificant as this? Maybe it is because Lazarus is us–you and me. Maybe the whole point of the passage is not to point to Jesus’ Resurrection but to our own. Do you think of yourself as journeying toward resurrection? Do you believe this? Sure, we talk about journeying to God, about journeying to the Promised Land, whatever that might be, and about journeying to where God calls us. But do you think of it as resurrection? Do you think of yourself dying and then raised? Maybe each of us is Lazarus. Maybe that is what Jesus wanted us so badly to believe and live—to show us how to grieve and then to teach us Life.
We often depict this Lenten journey as our journey to the Cross, our journey with Christ. So, does it stop there? I think the story goes on. Jesus is Resurrected. Maybe that’s what Jesus was trying to show us–not that we would be somehow plucked from death in the nick of time and not that God really has the intention of putting our lives back together like some sort of Humpty-Dumpty character, but that we, too, are journeying toward resurrection, toward new life.
Lent is the journey that shows us that. Lent shows us that the journey through the wilderness is sometimes hard, sometimes painful. Lent shows us not that death will not claim us but that death will not have the final word. Lent shows us that our faith tells us that there is more. Lent shows us what it means for Christ to unbind even us–even you and me–and let us go. Through all of life’s transitions, through all of life’s sad endings, through all of life’s unbearable turns, there is always a beginning. There is always Resurrection and resurrection–over and over and over again. That’s what this wilderness of loss teaches us—to plot our own resurrection. It is not the final say.
There was, indeed, something I had missed about Christianity, and now all of a sudden I could see what it was. It was the Resurrection! How could I have been a church historian and a person of prayer who loved God and still not known that the most fundamental Christian reality is not the suffering of the cross but the life it brings?…The foundation of the universe for which God made us, to which God draws us, and in which God keeps us is not death, but joy. (Roberta Bondi)
Grace and Peace,