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Berkeley / Los Angeles / Ireland

The Raising of Lazarus

by Ward Stothers

Two Days More
(This is a storied commentary on John 11—the Raising of Lazarus)

          It was the Judean springtime and the petals of the almond trees were blooming six days before the call of the Passover feast.  Chestnuts, coriander and cypress trees were all celebrating before their watchful God, offering pungent aromas, and stately expressions of yellow, white, and red tinted barks.  The pregnant toll of the ram’s horn was fresh in the Sabbath ears of the people reminding buttoned up worshippers to shed their winter attire and meet their living God, once again, at the Temple.  Passover was the most sacred of the feast days, and planned crusades were being mapped out by pilgriming Jews destined for worship in Jerusalem.  Adult Jewish males were required by law, and love of God, to attend the three major festivals of Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and at this time,  the Passover.
          Lazarus was sick.  He was the brother of Mary and Martha, a distinguished family from nearby Bethany about two miles down the hill from the scheduled gala in Jerusalem.  The illness started out like a late winter cold, turned to flu, and ballooned to three days of high temperature and choppy breathing.
          The sisters sent a messenger to request a house call from Jesus, the God man, who retreated to Jordan River East in Perea after being threatened out of Jerusalem by stone throwing teachers of the law.  The teachers were incensed with Jesus’ blasphemous claim to be God’s Son; this was like claiming equal stature and worth with divine Yahweh— the only God there was,  in Israel.  Jesus in Perea was a day away on foot beyond the Jordan in a desert place, more tender for the locust, cactus, and John the Baptist, than to shade seeking humans wandering around uncomfortably  looking for an available well and an expectant  Messiah.
          When the report of the illness, reached Jesus,  the Author of healing and wholeness, instead of hailing the nearest mule and taxiing back to Bethany, or healing Lazarus from afar as he did with the son of the Centurion, he stopped still and unmoving like a lizard on a torrid, sandy walkway, staying where he was, two more days.   Two more days for a friend he loved, needed healing, and whose body was struggling, resisting burial and slipping on the slide of sickness down to grave.  Two more days of vanquished, bed thoughts from  Lazarus with a clear memory of the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the re-living of the widow’s son in Nain.  Two more days of repeating “If onlys”, from the distraught and defeated Mary and a faithfully confused Martha who found air in her prayers, while her redeemer God rested, staring into hot sun shadows  in prayerful meditation, across Jordan town.
          Two days more  for even us, the army of Adam and Eve  past, present, and future from Eden on out of the Garden dying in an identity crisis,   through multiple passing  millennia, continuing our masquerade and disfigurement of who ‘human’ was meant to be, which never consistently sprouted;  and down frame by photographic frame  through the times of Jesus  where the image of God should have been recognized and exalted, but was missed, and crucified; and finally, two days more in the basement, in the bloodiest century in history when we greet each other no longer with a handshake and a blessing,  but cautiously screening each other as potential terrorists  that only stamp our condition with grief,  and broadcast our loss of humanity registered as impersonal and reduced to a number—a five billion peopled genealogy, who know deliberately, defiantly and intimately, that the sin we have willfully sculpted in our lives, distancing ourselves from the Creator, has drawn the inevitable consequence of a once-only, self-appointment—of death, with the question forming in the noose, “Where is the sunrise ?”
          Then Jesus said to his disciples, Let us go back to Judea .  The stream bed  who Jesus was, now started flowing water overcoming the flat rock objections of a dismayed discipleship and meandering with strength and a head wind towards the Jerusalem suburb.  Disciple fears from the storm at sea in Galilee had resurfaced .   The corps of disciples wondered out loud, on the wisdom of their return as target practice for the stone wielding teachers of the law in Jerusalem.  Jesus responded, circling and talking the well being, of Lazarus,  underlining that only the warrant of God would fit, be done, and remain standing under the light of this day.  He led them off with great stride ploughing for this engagement in a straight line.
          The encouragement of Jesus in the midst of the worst experience in life was serving a three course  meal of troth for the deprivation of his perishing friend.  Would it only be words?  Martha hearing that Jesus was near, searched to meet him with a mixed emotion of grief and hope while  Mary stayed at home entertaining her disappointment.  Jesus announces to Martha and overhearing disciples that He is the resurrection and the life—He makes them reflect and chew on the good food, the eventual reality of continual life with God.
          Hear it again, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me (now) will live (then), even though he dies (at this time);  and, whoever lives and believes in me (at that time), will never die ( and live forever).”  Can you taste it?  He directs an acknowledgment from Martha’s lips asking, “Do you believe this ?  She confesses, “Yes” that he is the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.   In asking, do you believe this, he is bringing close, personal and tangible not the words or doctrine of life circulating and distant, not an idea of life, nor the path of life nor any and every seven step program,  and even not a good meal of life  pursuing  power, success, and wisdom in a how-to treatise—  but the person of Life, its Author, Framer, and Gifter— Jesus Himself, God-Only, for Martha offering a destruction of death through his divine engineering, and the seizure of life, in relationship with a God, who cares for her, for you, for me, for all of us.
          Mary now enters and accompanied by the professional mourners, all approach Jesus in great grief and tears.  Here is the Christ of God who was days before framing this abnormality of death for his disciples as, ‘sleep’ for his stone cold, stinking friend, four days lost, gone and departed, and  knowing himself as God and aware that he had the power and intent to minutes-away,  raise Lazarus from the dead, is here, found now most vulnerably distressed as human, and publicly weeping at,  the entrance to the sepulcher .   Jesus cries for the same reason we do.  Death is awful.  It breaks down everyone.  It is the last word to nowhere, always routed in tears, always plagued with sadness, endlessly left with unanswerable questions, pausing breath, and a stuck tongue.   Jesus, in his reaction to Death as abnormal, ugly and most present, recommends we sip deeply and meditate fully on the correction of our plight, and choice—and from whom, life has been returned free to us.
          “Roll away the stone”  interrupted the contemplation in an Isaiahen gesture of  release for the captives, and  was awkwardly met by Martha’s contention that four days of stench and odor would move, well  before the perfume of spikenard could capture it.  Jesus unties the knots of murmuring fear and hiding faith; he serves a  desert for their tables and the hook of faith for the open mouths of the staring onlookers.  Just like with the paralyzed man at Capernaum,  he offers one more digestive proof of his divine residence with an abiding simile,  “If you see this, then you can surely believe that”;  If Lazarus exits, dead man walking, live man leaping—whole and hungry and ready to bless God, we too, after speaking with Martha’s brother, pinching the truth of his alive, tepid flesh, watching him devour hungry, a Sea of Galilee lake trout, and hearing him remonstrate on the silence of the grave,  might believe that life with God was pregnant, imminent, and a planned solution for our pained and fractured existence;  All might be wiped clean with the order of waiting dessert and the birth of the future with,  the embrace of God.  The grave will not hold the people of God, only God does.
          Jesus, after addressing and recognizing his Father In prayer, beckons to the dark, quarantined entrance, with a full and voluminous, operatic hurl,  silencing all gray resignation with colorful, celebrative , acoustical definition  darting in sound somewhere between the quivering bottom ground and the tapestry of the celestial heights—Lazarus, it’s time to go,  enough solitude and distance,  Get out here, and dance.


Two days   more night—brothers and sisters
And on the third—


Copyright © 2008 Ward Stothers