|The Resurrection of Lazarus, Duccio, 1308-11|
This is the first cut for the reflection tomorrow morning, I don't think its quite where I want it to be but it may be all I can manage this time around.
Lent 5, 2017
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
As I read Ezekiel’s vision of the ‘Valley of Dry Bones’, I find it hard to silence the jingle in my memory of the African-American spiritual based on this text: ‘Dem Bones’ composed about the 1920s. Its anatomy lesson haunts the memory, as these things can:
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone – and so on.
The jingle catches us with the mechanics of physical ‘reconstruction’, the playful assembly of bone to bone; but it lacks the imaginative sweep of Ezekiel’s vision where something close to horror looms as we imagine sinew layered to sinew and then the layers of flesh that create physiognomy; and finally the breath of life that creates the unique person. In this vision of reconstruction from the barest remnants of humanity, we feel the pressure of the Genesis account of creation and the making of humanity. Is the likeness of God still imprinted in these fragments, these broken shards?
The gospel story of the raising of Lazarus is found only in John where the story dramatically foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. There are elements within the story that confuse us: how is it that the anointing at Bethany is mentioned before John tells of it? Furthermore, given the closeness between Jesus and his friends in Bethany, why does Jesus delay attending Lazarus when he hears of his sickness? Further, how is it that both Martha and Mary make the same complaint: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Here we strike familiar territory. The complaint of Martha and Mary is what we always make when we feel the pinch of mortality: ‘God if you had been here this would not have happened.’ Whether it is a cancer, a murder, a casual accident, or death in a natural disaster – we have this tendency to expect God to prevent such things happening and, by implication, to be eternally intervening to overrule the diverse natural processes that allow cancers and earthquakes, typhoons and tsunami while also sustaining the universe; to also intervene and overrule the evil will of murderers, dictators and other wrong doers. We feel and fear the arbitrary impact of tragedy. We feel helpless and we deplore and mourn the loss and waste of lives, of goodness vanished and beauty defaced – and still we struggle to comprehend how a good God , a loving God, can let such things be. Of course we pondered this before; many times.
How can it be different? How could it be?
We find Jesus is angry and sorrowful, and weepy. We feel the conflux of very human emotions; the way that grief has, of being complex and bitter. By the tomb Jesus is watched keenly and we sense a toxicity among the mourners, some are all too ready with a jibe to undermine or discredit the man who so threatens their status:
“he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. … Jesus began to weep…. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" … But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
That is the question: could he have? But at what cost?
Is there a greater plan at work concealed from our understanding? For this purpose to be fulfilled Lazarus must experience death – as so must Christ – but death is only part of the story. Lazarus is Everyman, everyone of us, and for him (as for us) death is the door for entry into a new world. But this is no easy thing to contemplate , nor indeed for Christ who looks toward Jerusalem and what he must suffer there. Yet Christ remains steadfast, walking alongside his friends in Bethany and keepi ng himself clearly focussed on what he must do. He will awaken Lazarus and Lazarus will become the sign for what God is doing in all of us through Christ.
So at the tomb they roll the stone away and we have this grotesque image of the bandaged and hobbled man responding to the command ‘Lazarus come out’. And now others assist in this moment as Jesus commands, “Unbind him and let him go.”
This is the moment of fearful and terrifying wonder – in this moment Lazarus is a new creation; a new order, a new reality dawns. “Lazarus, come out.”
That is where we are in this gospel. We are with Lazarus, being called into life; again and again and again. Everytime we leave behind the grave cloths of previous stages as our life in Christ calls us into new transfomations , new cycles of rebirth, self-sacrifice, dying and being born again. We are called to come out of our tomb.
every night, every day.
We are called on a journey of resurrection
to do the work of God,
to bring love into our families, our communities and the world."