In reading for the week, and in particular considering the Gospel of John and the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11), I have had some questions rolling around in my head that I am going to write down and see where we might go with them.
So here we are:
· Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?
· Do you believe in death?
· Do you believe you are free?
Let me start this exploration and adventure with some self-disclosure. I have had the experience of being left for dead and was expected to die by those who were carrying for me. I was ill and the sickness I had (meningitis and meningoencephalitis) could not be traced to its origins so treating me in the hospital was difficult. There was lots of pain and medication. There were many painful tests angry doctors, lab techs and lots of needles. And because I was in a teaching hospital and I was an inexplicable case, I was often a teaching case for students. When I was released to go home, people started calling me ‘Lazarus’.
I share this with you so that you understand that this particular piece of John’s Gospel has a significant meaning for me.
One of the first things that I notice about this chapter is that Jesus after the confrontation that has lasted since chapter eight is that Jesus waited two more days before he set out for the trek to Bethany and back into Judea. Everyone around Jesus was wondering what he was waiting for because Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were close to him and Lazarus was near death. But Jesus kept reassuring the people around him, “This will not end in death”. Even when it came time to go, those around him still did not get it. Jesus is going to wake him from death not sleep.
Thomas announces that they should go with Jesus so that they can follow him, even if it means their own ends. It is both very fatalistic and at the same time very noble and true. The Twelve choose to go with Jesus and to be with him. I find it true also that there are different kinds of servants where God is concerned. Some are as bold as brass like Thomas and Martha while others like Mary are quietly called, led and sent.
Martha, unlike Mary in this story, is the one who is confident in Jesus and makes a bold statement of faith in acknowledging Jesus as the Sent One and that her brother will rise again on the last day. Mary is quieter and shares some of the same faith. When Mary comes to Jesus, adopts a position of contrition and worship. I find it interesting that Mary, after encountering Jesus falls into the tears and despair of the rest of the group that when with them to the tomb.
To me, it is powerful that in spite of the fact that no one seemed to understand what was coming, Jesus went ahead with his plan and started with praying to the Father. And when I think about it, what else are you going to do when you are intentionally going to the cemetery to raise a dead man. Something tells me that you had better come with something more than a little bit of doctrine if we are going to raise the dead. And let’s keep in mind this is one man. Jesus could have raised the whole community cemetery. He raised one man. Can we? Can the Church raise one man from the dead?
This thought brings me back to my questions at the start of this blog. Do I believe and trust in God? I can tell you that during the illness I described to you, there was a point when I finally prayed to be taken rather than remain in this world. The pain and the suffering were too much and I had enough. I put myself in the hands of God... and he delivered me. It took 22 days for the healing to take effect but I remember that moment when I was healed.
One afternoon Nova and a friend (the priest who married us) laid hands on me and prayed for me. I could feel this heat and the print of someone’s palm on my back. As hot as the hand was, it did not hurt. My wife left not knowing if she would see me alive again. I was blind, photophobic, unable to eat or walk. I lived in darkness for 3 weeks that way. The following morning my wife came into my hospital room to see me sitting in the day chair, with the blinds wide open, eating my breakfast. God did that. God did that and I have been blessed over the years to lay hands on others and to pray with them. Some have died but done so with grace and with boatloads of hope. Others, by the grace and care of God, have come back and gone on to lead lives that defy the human imagination. The important thing is not that I was healed but that God showed himself to so many people, and people were healed and they believed in God. I was only the mirror to reflect the light of God’s glory.
Like Lazarus, we might need some assistance to take off the grave clothes so that we can be truly free but we are capable of living as the free people we are, for Christ and in Christ.