Friday, April 06, 2007

Grace Before the Cross: Lazarus

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Lazarus(John 11:1-44)

There’s so much going through my mind right now. What is death? What is Life? Who can know how to answer these questions? O Jesus, you should know. You called me out from the grave. Now, we’ll have to prepare a grave for you.

Who am I? I am Lazarus of… Bethany. Yes, I’m the same Lazarus, the onethat that man up on that cross raised from the dead. Why is he up there if he can raisepeople from the dead? That’s a good question. The reason he’s up there… Is because of me. About two weeks ago when I was still back in Bethany, I started to feel sick. It wasn’t like an ordinary sickness, like the kind that makes you feel run down but isn’t so bad that you can’t keep working and doing your normal daily routine. No, this was different. When this illness struck, I couldn’t even get out of bed. My sisters, Martha and Mary, hadn’t seen me like this since I was child and were afraid that I wouldn’t survive, so they sent word to Jesus of Nazareth – That man up there on that cross – because many people had witnessed him do great miracles. They thought surely if he came he could heal my sickness. And I believed he could too.

But Jesus was delayed. I’m not sure why, but it’s probably because there weren’tmany placed left where he could travel in the open. In fact, a good number of the people in and around Bethany in Judea wanted him dead, and had tried to stone him! What I remember most about lying in the bed waiting for Jesus to come and my fever was growing and I slipped in and out of consciousness, was wondering if he would get here in time. We were friends. I knew that he cared about me and although at the time I didn’t know how much he cared, I thought that surely he wouldn’t just let me die. I remember hearing some people cry, my sisters most likely, and some other people from the village. I remember a breath where it felt as though a huge weight were laid upon my chest. Each breath came harder and harder, and my eyes were so heavy I couldn’t keep them open.

What happened next I can only tell you from what I was told. I died. My family and people from the village cried for me. My sisters prepared my body in the customary way, and laid my body in the family tomb. I’d seen that tomb I don’t know how many times. When you walk past a tomb like that and you can smell the dusty odor, you should be reminded that it’s a tomb in use. It’s the family tomb. But when you’re young you don’t think about how one day you’ll be lying in it.

I know, that’s a good point. I’m standing here alive right now, but I’m telling you I was dead. You should think it’s crazy, it’s only natural. They tell me, though, that when Jesus came to Bethany and they led him to the tomb, he didn’t say anything like what you would expect a great healer to say, or even like someone who knew he was about to raise me from the dead. No, rather… Jesus wept. All the tears from Mary and Martha and the other people had moved him deeply. You would think that he would have winked at them and said, “if you think my other miracles were great, just wait till you see this”, but instead he cried bitterly. It’s as if… He hated death. It’s as if he hated that death was causing such sorrow and pain.

But yet there he is, and he’s dying.

I was in the tomb for four days. We’re taught by the rabbis and the teachers that it takes that long for someone’s spirit to leave after death. I remember, though, as I lay in my bed dying thinking “Jesus will come”. He will. He wont abandon me. I closed my eyes and it felt like I couldn’t breath. I felt the weight of death.

But the next moment, it seemed, I heard a voice shouting, “Lazarus, come out!” My eyes, which had been heavy just before snapped open wide, and what I saw was not the ceiling of the house I had been laying in, but rather stone! And what else, but I realized I was seeing the rocks through a veil that was rapped around my head! I breathed in, and it was as though I had never taken a breath in my life! Fresh air came into my chest and the heaviness was gone. I raised my head and I could see light, and in that light I could see a silhouette of a man, and in an instant I recognized both the man and the voice that had called out my name. It was Jesus! He had come for me! I struggled to roll over and I realized it wasn’t just my head that was wrapped in strips of cloth, but my whole body was wrapped. I caught a whiff of dust, and I realized where I was. I finally rolled over and as my feet touched the ground the strips of cloth hampered me as I tried to stand. The strips gave way somewhat and I began to move towards the light and the voice I had heard. I walked toward that man! Once I came out into the light, I heard Jesus say, “take off the grave clothes and let him go”. I was led aside and sat down on a stone and some people began working quickly but carefully to get the strips of cloth off of me. They started with my head, and they pulled the veil fully off my eyes and I saw Mary with Jesus standing close by. They were both smiling at me. I was alive!

We invited Jesus to come back again soon, and six days before Passover he came. He should never have come, but we were so glad to see him and we were laughing and crying. Mary went to get the gift we had got for him. We had put our money together and bought Jesus a jar of pure nard. We knew that Jesus didn’t have any family that cared about him and we were trying to say to our dear friend that should he pass on, we would provide care for him – Not that we wanted him to die anytime soon. We wanted him to live a long and full life.Jesus understood our intentions and you could tell he was overwhelmed. Mary used some the nard to anoint Jesus’ feet. We did this out of love for him, but O how naïve could we be? Judas was there as well. He turned on Jesus and complained that the nard should have been sold to buy food for the poor, but Jesus flat out rebuked him. He said, “the Poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me”.

Then a large crowd of people found out where he was and we were telling them all about what Jesus had done, and many of those same people believed in him. Many of those same people were there when he rode into Jerusalem! And many of those same people also put him up there on that cross. They were crying out, “crucify him!” It’s like they are all dead too, but in a different way. It’s like they are all dead inside.

I was just like that once, too.

Because of all of that, Jesus is up there on that cross. The same man who less than two weeks before was smiling and laughing with us… The same man who called me out from the grave. He’s naked up there. They’ve nailed his hands and his feet. There’s blood everywhere. They stuck a crown of thorns on his head. He’s bleeding from that too. He’s sunburned. I can see he can’t breath. It must be like a heavy weight on him. It’s getting dark too, almost like night and it’s the middle of the day! What can that mean!

Oh Dear God! Speak to him like he spoke to me so that he can rise from the dead too!


Gary said...

Thank you, Matt, for volunteering to be one of our Lenten readers. You did a terrific job in the actual dramatic reading itself, but it was the job you did in writing it that in some ways was the real heavy lifting. Nice.

While there are some things I'd still feel consciece-bound to let you do only with me or Pastor Bruce standing over your shoulder, this wasn't one of them. I knew you could handle the writing yourself. Also, this was one of those times when I think a person learns more by being on his own.

Thanks ever so much for your help, prayers, support and friendship. Blessings.


the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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