Preaching Lazarus

Today’s text was John 11:1-44, the Lazarus story, which is all about lamentation (grief) and love — and gosh, aren’t those two connected? Mary and Martha were torn apart by grief because they loved their brother so, and his death was untimely and unexpected. (We used the DVD of the Gospel of John today, as we did last Sunday for the healing of the blind man.)

Lazarus, Come out! It’s a great story to ponder at the end of Lent, as we prepare to walk with Jesus through Holy Week and experience again, death followed by resurrection.

But I’ll admit it, I always feel sorry for Lazarus. Nobody asked him if he wanted to come out of that tomb. Do you think he wanted to come back to life once he’d tasted what lay beyond? I mean, if you were enjoying the glory of God on the other side of the Veil, would you really want to be wrenched back through that Veil to be breathing oxygen again? The poor guy. He had his soul poured back into a 4-day-dead body. It alleviated his sisters’ grief, yes, but I really wish we could hear his side of the story. The gospels are too silent about Lazarus.

The Lazarus story highlights the mystery of death and life-beyond-death. It both assures us that people of deep faith may grieve — there is nothing un-faithful about grieving — and it also reminds us that grief is temporary, a this-world concern.

On a related note, I happen to be reading Team of Rivals, about the political career of Abraham Lincoln. I’m struck by the multiple passages about Lincoln’s melancholy and the many losses he endured. In that day so many people lost loved ones at young ages, for tragic reasons. It gives me pause, and makes me realize that we assume the people we love will just keep on living. Our generation is perhaps not as acquainted with grief as previous generations have been.

Life is precious and fragile and only the Spirit of God sustains life in our bodies.


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