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April 6, 2014: Lent 5


Resurrezione di Lazzaro

Resurrezione di Lazzaro

This week’s readings.
Martha and Mary send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is ill, but Jesus tarries and when he arrives Lazarus is dead. Martha comes to Jesus first.
“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'” (John 11:21-24)
Martha is aware of the resurrection of the dead, that the reading from Ezekiel 37 describes. But now her brother is in the tomb because Jesus was not there to save him. Mary also comes to Jesus and repeats her sisters words weeping. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)
Martha and Mary say the same thing to Jesus – Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died – but he responds to both of them differently. To Martha, he said “I am the resurrection and the life.”(John 11:25) With Mary, he weeps and goes to the tomb. Seeing the crowd that is mourning Lazarus’ death Jesus is disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. (John 11:33)
Jesus believes in the resurrection of the dead; he is the resurrection and the life. But this is not to say that Jesus simply transcends death and is unaffected by it. He doesn’t provide empty sentiments that are meant to reduce the pain. Though he does say to Martha that her brother will rise again, this message of hope is not intended to minimize the depth of her loss. He groans and weeps with all those who mourn. He goes to the tomb and he confronts death directly.
Among the mourning multitude Jesus looks upward and calls out to his Father knowing that he will be heard. (John 11:41) Then he cries out with a loud voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!” (John 11:43) And the dead man came out! This is a strange and absurd story. The particularity of Lazarus’ resurrection is a bit bothersome, as is the raising of Jairus’ daughter in the Synoptic gospels. (Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56) The story of Lazarus’ resurrection is almost offensive when engaged in its particularity. It is either an absurd lie or an arbitrary miracle. The stories of resurrection are few and far between, and I wonder: Why Lazarus? Why Jairus’ daughter? If Jesus had power like this why did he use it so sparingly? I can think of a few people I would like to be raised from the dead.
Van_Gogh_-_Die_Auferweckung_des_Lazerus_(nach_Rembrandt)Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for God’s glory (John 11:4) and that the people would believe that he was sent by God. (John 11:42) If we focus on the particularity of Lazarus’ resurrection we will miss the point. The point is that Jesus Christ is the resurrection! Lazarus being raised from the dead is an outpouring of the universal truth that Jesus had said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”(John 11:25) He is greater than death, but this is not to say that he is unaffected by it.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”, but the depth of meaning in this statement is plumbed by Christ alone in his descent into death. Hans Urs von Balthasar has said, “The Redeemer showed himself therefore as the only one who, going beyond the general experience of death, was able to measure the depths of that abyss.”1 In descending to the dead Jesus is in solidarity with us all. He did not just go to Lazarus’ tomb. He also enters his own and as he plumbs the abysmal depths of death he is present in each and every tomb. No corner of the catacombs of hell are unknown to him. He has plumbed the depths of our suffering and pain; he has gone deeper then into the abysmal void then we ever could.2 Only after saying “he descended into hell” can we say, “on the third day he rose again from the dead.” (The Apostles Creed) In considering Christ descent we can begin to appreciate the depth of meaning in his statement, “I am the resurrection.”
Where once humanity called out of the depths to God, it is now God who calls to us from the depths. Jesus Christ is the apt inversion of Psalm 130:1. The Psalmist said, “Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.” Jesus returns the prayer of the psalmist addressing us, as he did Lazarus. Jesus knows that his Father hears him, but now he speaks to Lazarus and us all, saying, 
Out of the depths have I called you,
hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
Jesus calls out to us from the depths in his death and he calls us out from the depths in his resurrection. He prays for us and is the answer to hour prayers because he is the resurrection and the life.
1 – Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 168
2 – ibid
Landon Erb

About Landon Erb

Landon Erb is a Staff Missioner at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba and a Masters of Divinity student at Wycliffe College.

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5 Responses to April 6, 2014: Lent 5

  1. Jesus wept. Thanks for making that connection, Landon

    Lent 5 leads us into Holy Week and to the cross so well this year. And we can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

    • This reminds of the stunning essay by Donald Schell that appeared on the Daily Episcopalian blog back in 2008: “As a Door Nail.” http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/personal_reflections/as_a_door_nail.php Donald was reflecting on the death of his father and says, essentially, that the only way we can say anything true or real about resurrection is if we have the honesty and courage to say something true about death. Anything less leads us to fairy tales. Lazarus is dead–really dead–really stinking dead. Jesus brings him back to life. What on earth could that possibly mean for a man whose body was corrupted, whose family had wept for him. What did he experience in that cold, dark cave? How could he go on living after something like that “resurrection”?

      This text raises far more questions about resurrection than it answers, but the shear amount of detail in this passage from John suggests that the resolution of those answers might lie in the specificity of the account. Details lead us to a careful examination of the pariticulars, and someone that seems important in this case.

      Everyone’s death story is s unique as their birth story. The mess is a particular kind of mess. The pain is a particular pain not felt since the beginning of the world. It’s all special and unique and can teach us something about the incarnation. What, exactly, was God’s business accepting the burden of a body, anyway? Why in that place, at that time?

      I tell my community often: preaching Good Friday is easy. Everyone knows what cruficixion, death, and sin look like. What’s hard is Easter Sunday. How do we make resurrection real to people? How do we tell a story about new life that is as vivid as the suffering we know and see all around us?

  2. @taymoss, I’m reminded of a funeral I attended as a student, officiated by one of my mentors. He began the liturgy by saying, “XY is dead. Really, really, dead. Gone. I’m not going to be polite and say ‘passed away’, or ‘gone to be with Jesus’. He’s dead.” I remember being blown away, and a little worried about how the congregation was going to react. But there was something freeing about his blunt approach. Something brutally honest that allowed for both grief and new birth.

    I’m going to sit on your words for a little while: “Everyone’s death story is s unique as their birth story.” Because while that’s true, I’ve always been struck by death’s sameness: we’re all born the same, and we all die the same. And while I’ve always found a certain liberation from individualism and that communion-centric view of life, I think there are strengths on both poles…

  3. Landon Erb

    Thanks for your thoughts.
    I think the Church is often to quick to reduce death to a moment. We can talk about Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but we don’t know what to do with Holy Saturday. How do we speak about death as an absolute reality? What do we do when the tomb is not empty, when the bodies of our loved ones are before us. We go to the tomb and weep. We take time to allow our spirits to be greatly disturbed by the yawning abyss. We need time to mourn.

  4. About both the universality and the particularity of death? Jesse, like you, I am going to mull this one over. In my Sunday message I connected the woman at the well and the man born blind and dead Lazarus and gave it the rather un-cheerful title: “Dysfunction, Disability and Death” , but I suggested all three had become occasions for participation in the purposes of God.
    On the practical side I got news this week of 4 deaths in the families of my parishioners. Tay, I agree that speaking resurrection hope in such circumstances is a challenge. But I find that those who have already seen God at work in the midst of assorted dysfunction and disability are more ready to consider that even death may fall under the purposes of God.
    On the philosophical side I am considering common popular thinking about death which seems more Platonic or Hindu or Pantheistic. Death is not such a big deal because at death all souls just sort of end up in a “better place” with no forgiveness or reconciliation or even enlightenment required. Then I heard NT Wright say that when Pantheism increases so do suicides. This startled me but perhaps it makes sense.

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