Read: John 11:1-45
Meditation: “Out of the Tomb!”
The Lenten passages concentrate on moving from death to life: new birth, new sight—and today, a fresh start. The raising of Lazarus has been exegeted and explored from every conceivable angle.
Today, I am thinking about the process of coming “out of the tomb”—out of the dead places in our lives—places where defeat has become depression, and we say (at least to ourselves), “Nothing is ever going to change. It’s always going to be this way. It is what it is.” That was literally the way it seemed in relation to Lazarus. Dead people stay dead. We can have places in our lives where that seems to be the case for us as well.
And then….Jesus shows up—a “little late” it seems, but he’s there. And what we don’t emphasize enough in this story is that he heads straight for the tomb—straight for the “dead places” in our lives. He walks right past all the living things, and heads to the place where (by now) there is a stink. It’s very important for us to see Jesus this way; otherwise, we’ll keep him “in church” and fail to see that he is a Monday-through-Saturday savior too.
And then….Jesus speaks. It is the word needed to deal with the problem. “Come out” is the message because Lazarus is “in there.” Jesus doesn’t waste words. He speaks in relation to our need. He will not tell us to do one thing if we need to do something else. That’s not only honesty, it’s healing. Jesus always goes where the healing is needed. We call it “conviction.”
And—thanks be to God!—praise God from whom all blessings flow!—Lazarus comes out of the tomb. But, coming out of the tomb is not a “me and Jesus” thing. When Lazarus appeared, the next words of Jesus were not spoken to Lazarus—or even to God. He spoke to the crowd, “Unbind him, and let him go.” People can only get out of the tomb in community, and there is no greater shame on the Body of Christ than that “dead people” come to the door, and we push them back into their graves! As my mentor, Dr. Tom Carruth, often said, “The great tragedy of the church is that people come to church hurting, and leave hurting.”
Like the pharmacist in the midwest who diluted the the cancer medicine, we sometimes diminish the Gospel—the word of radical grace—spoken over the very “dead places” of our lives, and then completed through the loving words and actions of a community of faith where “stinkiness” is no barrier to love.