There are a thousand ways to be dead. The shutting down of the physical body is just one. Lazarus’ body shut down and Jesus cried for his friend. And then he brought him back from the dead. Not many have that kind magic in their repertoire. I’m not very interested these days in whether the story is true or not. I suspect that the writer of John’s gospel wasn’t overly concerned either. He wrote the story as one more sign that Jesus had mastered the physical realm, and that included death.
But the primary point is not so much that Jesus is master over death, but rather over life (which includes death). What Jesus couldn’t abide was the soul dying before the body was done— spiritual death. He saw it everywhere: in the idolatry of the religious officials, who were going through the motions, but not connecting with the living G_d; in those who clung to their possessions as though their life depended on it; in the way of Roman domination and the decimation of village life; in those who allowed the Law to be a stand-in for love; in those who stood in judgment of “sinners” but who refused to look deep enough into their own broken hearts.
In him was life, and this life was the light of all (John 1).
Most of us, if we’re honest, know what it’s like to be dead for four days or forty years, to carry around the stench of death. Because the truth is, for me at least, is that by the time we reach adulthood, the life we had didn’t come in the form of Jesus, but in the form of ordinary humans, who were doing their best in a world that had given up on love—and had given up on them as well. And this giving up stretches back millennia to the moment that humans gave in to death in its myriad forms.
Jesus is the model of what life, and light, looks like when it hasn’t been snuffed out by death. The “world” did not “recognize” him because our sight adjusts to the darkness, adjusts to death. Our life becomes a series of compromises and compensations for the ways that death brushed up against us or in some cases brutalized us, anointed our bodies, minds, and hearts and wrapped us in grave cloths.
If we’re lucky, we hear the voice of the Nazarene echoing in the tomb of our lives, “Come out”. Life wrapped us in grave cloths – all the slights we’ve endured from those we thought loved us, the failures we’ve never forgiven ourselves for, the shame, the second chances that came our way but we let slip by, the dreams that enlivened us and quickened our hearts, but whose fire we neglected to tend, the meagre portion of love we’ve settled for, all the playing it safe.
The voice that is the Light and Life is almost inaudible so deep is our slumber. We hear the grief in the beckoning voice. It is love’s voice. When you hear it you recognize it as the voice you’ve been waiting for all your life. You understand that it’s not possible to speak these words to yourself because the power of death, of self-judgment and condemnation has hi-jacked your vocal chords and your mind.
When the unravelling of death begins, naturally there’s going to be a distinct stench. It’s the stench of unlived life. But it’s also the beginning of a new creation. You have been called by Life and by Light to return to the land of the living. Nothing will be taken for granted. You will surrender to the possibility of being born again and again to the great adventure of becoming.
11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
11:35 Jesus began to weep
11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
11:39 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.”
11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.
11:42 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.”
11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!”
11:44 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.”