Saturday, March 8, 2008

Because my name is Lazarus and I live

John 11:1-45

Tomorrow's gospel tells the story of Lazarus' resurrection from the dead. Even though he'd been dead for four days-- not just minutes, like the synagogue ruler's daughter; not just on the stretcher being carried to the grave, like the son of the widow of Naim; but completely dead, the tomb purchased and the body prepared and beginning to stink.

Martha and Mary have been grieving for these days, probably only leaving the house to wail by the tomb. That, and wonder where their friend had been when they had sent for him, their friend in whom they had believed, the one who could have saved their brother with just a touch, the one who could heal with just some spit.

And Jesus knows that his friend is dead, and believes that it is all part of God's plan. It's hard for us to accept that illness and death are part of God's plan, though. We resist such an idea, because then that would mean that God deliberately abandons good people to suffer, and what would we do with that? So we tell ourselves that we no longer live in an age where miracles bloom like wildflowers, and what are miracles after all but just a primitive people's way of explaining what science explains to us today? And if Jesus would let his friend die, then what about us when we are afraid or in pain or facing death and we call upon God to preserve us?

But Jesus brings his friend back from the tomb, simply by calling Lazarus back from the stench of the grave. Lazarus comes forth in silence. Of all the people mentioned in this story, only Lazarus is silent. We know that Jesus' apostles question him. We know that the dead man's sisters, also friends and disciples of Jesus, demonstrate their faith in Jesus even as their brother rots in his tomb. The crowd murmurs about Jesus as he grieves for his friend. But Lazarus remains silent. I wonder what he was thinking as he suddenly awoke in the tomb, bound with strips of cloth, disoriented, wondering what had happened. Did he have any memory of what it had been like to be dead? Would he go through the rest of his life as if in a waking dream, or did he simply feel like we do after being deeply asleep and awakening suddenly?

Over at, one of the posters left this poem as part of the discussion of this Sunday's text:

The Convert (by G. K. Chesteron)

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Even though we picture heaven as a wonderful place where there is no more suffering, here the poet imagine Lazarus as profoundly grateful for the gift of being back here in this messy, chaotic, pain-filled world. And we know that Lazarus will indeed die again eventually, but in the meantime he is restored to those he loves. Surely that is heaven here on earth.

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