Lazarus, Come Out
In this thin time around All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, I find myself thinking about eternity. The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about death. What will it be like to die? I mean, what will it be like when I have crossed the threshold and am beyond intense pain and the panic of not being able to draw a breath? I imagine a great unbinding — from burdens, from responsibility, from sin, from expectations and hopes — an unbelievable freedom. I imagine an easing of my heart and an expanding into relationship with all that is, a relationship I can only perceive dimly from this side of the grave. I imagine beauty and wonder, overwhelming belonging and love. But there my imagination stops.
The readings from All Saint’s Day, Revelation 21:1-6, and the story of Lazarus, John 11:32-44, offer a springboard to deeper understanding.
Wouldn’t it be great to sit with Lazarus after his return from the grave and to hear what he experienced? Here he is, this living testament to the power of Christ over death, and we hear nothing from or about him after the moment he walked out of the tomb. What was his life like after that? When did he die a second time?
We “modern” people are hampered, I think, by our scepticism. What really happened to Lazarus, we ask. Was there some sort of suspended animation, a coma state so profound that no one could detect breath or a heartbeat? It couldn’t really be, could it, that Lazarus actually died?
Pragmatically, I figure we ought either to believe the story — swallow it hook, line and sinker — or write it off as an event that was entirely fabricated from beginning to end. Why mess around with anything in between? Either Christ is God incarnate, capable of bending physics and the laws of biological functioning, and time itself if necessary — or he isn’t.
If he is, we are given the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, a realm open to all. This is the image the Book of Revelation leaves us with. Hierarchies, power differences, poverty, and prejudice no longer hold sway. All are welcome and everyone belongs.
It’s a vision meant to be lived-out while we are alive. It’s supposed to give us the courage to embody the Way of Love, growing ever more discerning and wise as we go on. It’s supposed to show us the upside down reality of things — how the first are last and the last are first.
Because, if Jesus Christ has power over death itself, what should we fear? We certainly don’t need to worry about — or be bound to — the shoulds and oughts of the temporal world. Love is our Master, our only Master. Love has authority over everything, death included. And Love will claim us, envelop us, when our short tenure on earth is done.