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Stumbling around like Lazarus

April 5, 2014

Over the last week or so I have been reminded again and again about mortality – my own and the mortality of those around me. It started before then with Jamie, one of our lay ministers, being hit by a car. He is getting better but it is going to be a long road to full health again. Then my wife went into hospital for an operation. The condition that she had was life threatening but thankfully she was in little immediate danger. Still it made me think. Then I had 4 funerals to conduct in quick succession, one of a husband and wife who died within a fortnight of each other. Then Saturday morning I received a message that someone had had a heart attack and had been taken to hospital. I’m putting down my thoughts having just visited the hospital.

So the story of the death of Lazarus is one that I can really relate to at the moment (John 11.1-45). Death is as much a fact of life now as it was in Jesus’ time. I hear how upset Martha was and I feel as though I share her pain. I hear Mary and I not only feel her loss but also her anger and despair, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Why had Jesus let this happen? Lazarus, Martha and Mary were all Jesus’ friends, but he had not cut short his preaching tour to help. If I knew a fellow minister who had abandoned his pastoral care of his friends to finish a preaching tour I would need to let him (or her) know that his priorities were all wrong. That people come first.

I can imagine myself there, with Martha and Mary and their friends. But I also notice that Jesus wasn’t above it all. He didn’t remain aloof from all this messy emotion – he too wept. I also recognise the sneering comments from some of the onlookers, “some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’” Sadly, the scoffers are still as much with us today as they ever were – I feel that powerful temptation myself.

So this isn’t a strange unreal story from a distant time, dealing with concerns that have been long forgotten by our modern world. This story shows God intimately involved with my fears and my deep emotions. This is about the pain in life and the reality of life ending. It is about being a helpless human being.

This story only moves from being an everyday tragedy right at the end, with Jesus saying the words, “Lazarus, come out”. Then it returns to the mundane again, with Jesus telling them to untie poor Lazarus, all bound up with his funeral clothes.

I take something important from all of this. I take the fact that God understands my fears and tears. I also take that God not only suffers with me and those I see who are grieving but that he has acted to end all pain and even to end all death. I learn that all of this is done amid ordinary every day events, and is acted out in ordinary every day lives – like mine. I fear the loss of those close to me. I can cry, I can question God. This passage I think is very much for me. I feel the hope that this story brings.

I then turn to pondering how this hope works, and turn to Romans 6.10-11 “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Now I would normally leave a passage like Romans 6 for a time when I can sit town and explore its complexities properly, in a study group perhaps. But it links so well with this story of Lazarus that I feel I need to consider it now.

Like Lazarus, my body is made by God my Creator but it is still fragile and very mortal. Bodies can be damaged, they get sick and they ultimately die. What Paul reminds me in Romans 6 is that God hasn’t forgotten that fact. God understands and joins me in my frailty so much that through Christ I know that the weakness of this mortal body is only a temporary state of affairs. God will continue to give me life, even if this body dies and is buried: Right through it all the power of the Spirit is living in me, giving me life… life for ever.

So both passages from the Bible, the story of Lazarus from John’s Gospel and the ideas of Paul from Romans 6, they both provide me with some simple facts:

1. The realities of pain, loss and death are not dodged by God
2. God understands my human condition better than I do myself
3. God enters into his own creation and through becoming human can overcome my human frailties, including death
4. God, through his Spirit can give me a taste of true and eternal life right now
I know all this but sometimes I still stumble around like Lazarus, all tied up and unable to live the new life I’ve been given. So, if you see me all caught up with worries or concerns, be Jesus for me, help untie me and let me go… and I’ll try and do the same for you!

God bless.

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