•Ezekiel 37:12-14 • Romans 8:8-11 • John 11:1-45•
Weekly Scripture Readings: Fifth Sunday of Lent
“Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face.”
Like the other “sign” stories in John’s gospel, this one about Lazarus also is very familiar to all of us. This story is astounding, but surprisingly is not mentioned in the other gospels! This supports the conclusion of many scholars that the sayings, signs, and characters in John’s gospel are literary images created to draw us into the Christ Mystery.
In other words, this gospel is not about the historical Jesus. John wrote his gospel sixty-five to seventy years after Jesus had been crucified. The author’s purpose is not historical but theological. This gospel is about but the Christ of faith!
“I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” Martha and Mary wept over the death of their brother. But they are women of faith. Trust moves them to believe that in Jesus there is life that never ends. In him they experienced a new reality.
Now if you can set aside the pious talk and diluted clichés that surround texts like this, please do so. Let’s try to discover the good news in this story for our own lives.
Initially, after Jesus had been crucified, his companions fled and abandoned him. Later the experience we call Easter convinced them the boundary of death has been transcended.
That experience awakened in his companions a radically new understanding of God. They no longer imagined this Gracious Mystery as some external power to be feared or manipulated. In Christ they knew a permeating presence calling us beyond our limits.
This has enormous implications for us. If, as I believe, God is a presence permeating everything, then the meaning of life is expanded to incredible new dimensions. “I am the resurrection and the life. Who ever believes in me, even if s/he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Through the Lazarus experience the evangelist John calls us beyond life into life. He leads us beyond self-consciousness into the universal consciousness of Christ.
Since the moment self-consciousness awakened in our ancestors, we humans have struggled with physical, emotional and mental insecurity. Insecurity motivates us to see the world through the lens of “us versus them.” Insecurity motivates us to defend ourselves from perceived threats. For purposes of “national security” we maintain a nuclear arsenal of 10,000 warheads! Such insanity signals that we as a nation have not yet embraced the universal consciousness of Christ. We still are far less than fully human.
The Risen Christ opened a new consciousness for us, a new and unlimited understanding of what life is all about. “Do you believe this?” is a way of as king, “are you willing to come out of the tomb, to step beyond whatever keeps you from being fully alive and fully human. If you are not living a free, productive, joy-filled life, you are in a tomb “with a stone laid across the entrance.” If your life is small, governed by fear, or if you are hesitant to wonder, wander and take risks, you are in a tomb “with a stone laid across the entrance.”
If you read the Lazarus story within the larger context of John’s entire gospel, you will realize this story, as the other “sign stories,” was created to lead us into the Christ Mystery. In Christ we are able to live in a new dimension of what it means to be human. He was the first among us to be fully alive and fully human. He calls us out of our tombs created by our insecurities. He calls us to transcend our perceived limits and expand our ability to love – “agape-unconditional love.” Such love is the key to being fully alive and more fully human. It is the path to God set before us by Christ.