Year A Lent 5: Lazarus and other resurrections

Of course, they all would ask him about it, after the event. What was it like, being dead? Lazarus would tell them, “I don’t know what I can say to you about that. I can tell you what it was like to come back.
“You know, when you wake up but your dreams carry on, so that you can’t move your arms or your legs? I couldn’t move my eyelashes, let alone open my eyes. My mouth was sealed, my nostrils stuffed up with stale, sour bandages. I could hear him calling, and I had to get out there, I had to reach him. They make it sound, in the stories, as though I lifted to my feet as though pulled by an invisible string – nothing could be further from the truth. I was wrapped tightly like a swaddled newborn, and the best I could do was to roll and to squirm and to twist my way across the floor like a baby who has not yet learned how to crawl.
“When I reached the mouth of the cave, I could feel the sun’s warmth, hear the hissing breath of scores of men, and my sisters. I heard him again, telling them to unbind me, to set me free, and I have never been so grateful for the touch of a human hand.”
They would ask him, then, “What will you do now? What did you miss the first time around?”
Lazarus would get a faraway look in his eye. “I would awaken the sleepwalker, unbind his eyes. I would loosen the shackles of those bound by sin, or by fear. I would seek out and untie the ones who walk as though they are dead, because I have walked in their grave clothes.”

In a sermon preached in London in 1884, the Baptist minister Charles H. Spurgeon said,

In many things our Lord Jesus stands alone as a worker. No other can unite His voice with the fiat which says, “Lazarus, come forth!” Yet, in certain points of gracious operation, the Master associates His servants with Him, so that when Lazarus has come forth He says to them, “loose him, and let him go.” In the raising of the dead, He is alone, and therein majestic and Divine—in the loosing of the bound He is associated with them and still remains majestic—but His more prominent feature is condescension. How exceedingly kind it is of our Lord Jesus to permit His disciples to do some little thing in connection with His great deeds, so that they may be, “workers together with Him.”

Sometimes, something happens that stops us in our tracks. It may be the end of a relationship, a betrayal. Someone does a thing that makes us wonder if we ever really knew them. Or I do something that shakes my own self-image, makes me wonder about myself. Somebody dies, and you feel as though they might just as well lay you out right alongside them.

We wonder, can these dry bones live?

And yet, God demands our life, our resurrection. Lazarus had no more choice to resist the pull of Jesus’ command to live than the dry bones on the valley floor. Life goes on, and we go right on with it.

The question becomes, then, not one of whether to live or to die, but whether to live wrapped in a shroud or clothed in life.

Spurgeon went on:

A notable miracle was unquestionably worked, but it required a finishing touch. The man was wholly raised, but not wholly freed! Look, here is a living man in the garments of death! That napkin and other grave clothes were altogether congruous with death, but they were much out of place when Lazarus began to live again! It is a wretched sight to see a living man wearing his shroud. … Such was their condition that unless you observed carefully, you would think them still dead. And yet within them the lamp of heavenly Life was burning. Some said, “He is dead, look at his garments.” But the more spiritual cried, “He is not dead, but these bands must be loosed.”

It is Jesus who commands, who brings life, who is the Way and the Truth and Life – and yet he invites us to help one another, to loosen the bands of death, to change our clothes for the raiment of light and life. None of us does it alone. Even Jesus, who had no equal, relied on his friends to say, “Let us go also and die with him,” to roll away the stone from the tomb that held Lazarus in, to unbind the living.

There is much work to do. Whether it is lifting the dull darkness of lazy prejudice; it is our task, our call to remove the bandages that blind us to the beauty that God sees in each of us, in all of us, no exceptions. Whether it is teaching those who have lived in fear to stop holding their breath and believe what God has said, that “I will be their God, and they shall be my people;” to be the kind of friend, the kind of companion who will walk through the valley of dry bones, the valley of the shadow of death, when we are needed to give confidence and comfort to another. Whether it is loosening our own death grip on weapons of destruction and violence, opening ourselves instead to love and peaceful ways – we have seen yet again this week in Fort Hood a brutal reminder of the dead ends that war and weaponry can lead us down, and we know that there are many more threads that we never see, that wind in silence to the grave. Whether it is unstopping the mouths that need to cry out their truth, their love, their pain, their joy – it is our work to unbind them and set them free, those to whom God has given life, and life eternal.

When Jesus set his face towards Bethany, Thomas the Twin said, “We can’t let him go alone.” When Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, he made sure that he was surrounded by his family and his friends; he told them to go and lay hands on Lazarus, to unbind him, to unwind the winding cloth, so that he would know the tenderness of their touch, and know himself wrapped in love. Such is our work, to love one another, even our enemies, and our neighbours as ourselves, and not to hold back our help from the living dead, the walking wounded, the fettered and afraid, from one another.

The body count at the beginning of today’s readings is incredible – it is not just Lazarus, but there are dry bones and filled tombs everywhere – which only makes the miracle more stupendous. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you,” says Paul.

And so the glory of God is revealed, and we follow in the footsteps of Lazarus, helping each other off with our grave clothes and working out, every day, how to shun the shadow of the tomb and live in the light of life.

And Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”


Ref.: Charles H. Spurgeon:

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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