Sunday, April 10, 2011
Unspoken, But Heartfelt Words: Jesus and the Raising of Lazarus
As I was looking over the Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday, I was struck by the many dialogues that are occurring throughout. There's the communique that reaches Jesus from Martha and Mary about their brother Lazarus, who is ill.
There's Jesus telling the disciples about Lazarus' illness, and their misunderstanding that when their leader says Lazarus has "fallen asleep" it means "he's dead."
Then there is Martha's moment, the time when we see a woman of note in the Bible declare that she believes Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus says those words we Episcopalians know well from our burial services, "I am the resurrection and the life."
But the part of this story that is catching my attention follows the statement that "Jesus began to weep." (John 11:35) Assembled around, or at least nearby him, are Jews who were the minyan of comfort that came to be with the grieving sisters.
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?"
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus 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." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone.
I am pausing here. Jesus loved Lazarus, and like the others, is in grief. And what I'm seeing here is a man grappling with the reality of the human experience of death. I get the sense that he is a bit weary and perhaps all cried out when he answers Martha's prostests about rolling back the stone. And so we go on to these next lines of the reading:
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."
This seems as though Jesus was saying these words out loud, but I think this is a moment of personal prayer. "Father, I thank you for having heard me." When, exactly, did the Father hear him? My guess is in that place of weeping and being greatly disturbed. In times of sorrow and despair, those are the times when I am most likely to consciously turn to God. And the God in whom I believe meets me in that place of deep pain, and hangs with me as I wail and slam my fist into a pillow. God is with us always, but it is in our dark moments where God steps in to keep us together, and hear our rant. It's through this process that I think Jesus offers up his prayer of thanksgiving as he prepares to speak up...
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Laz'arus, 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."
Lazarus is free, unbound for a little while longer, and Jesus has shown the people... again... what amazing power can come when one is working with God. Blind people and dead people and marginalized people all become like him: the light of the world leading more folks out of their own darkness and despair into eternal life. Ah, what a feeling!