life and death | John 11.38-44
Reflection 140 of 240
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44| ESV
Deep anger rising up once again within him, he finally comes to the tomb entrance – it was a cave with a huge, heavy stone rolled over its mouth. Jesus says, “Remove the stone.” The deader than dead man’s sister, Martha interrupts, “Lord, it’s already a putrid stench in there – it’s been four days (((you’re a bit too late for a viewing of the body!)))” Jesus replied a bit sharply, “Didn’t I tell you that if you will trust you will see God wonders beyond your dreams?” So they moved the stone. Standing before the yawning mouth of death, Jesus then looked up and then spoke this prayer: “Abba, thank you for hearing me. I have always known you hear me, but I say this now simply for the sake of those standing around me, so they can recognize your calling card in what happens now, and learn to trust.” And after his prayer, he yelled into the gaping tomb at the top of his lungs, “Lazarus, come out!”
And out he came.
The deader than dead man appeared hobbling at the mouth of the tomb, bound hand and foot the way bodies were wrapped for burial, a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus says to those standing by, “Untie him and let him go.” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
Love the Old Testament story: A group of Israelite men were carrying a departed friend’s body to its final resting place, when they were surprised by a marauding band of Syrians. In their panic they threw his body into the first available tomb and then proceeded to high tail it out of there. But it wasn’t just any old tomb. It just happened to be where Elisha’s bones rested. And no sooner had the corpse touched the prophet’s long dried bones than the dead man sprang to life and joined his brothers in their flight (and no doubt his brothers at that point were running from more than the Syrians).
It’s what happens when death comes in contact with even the faintest echo of Life.
And with Jesus there is no faint echo here.
Life bellows into the shadow of death, and the deader than dead man (my tongue in cheek rendering of a repeated perfect passive Greek participle in this text – “the one who has died [and remains dead]”) steps from the shadows into the light. Or more likely, hobbles, since his body had been wrapped with burial cloths, mummy style. There was no arm wrestling match, no harrowing descent into the abyss.
The Resurrection speaks into death and darkness, and Life emerges.
While we would keep the stone in place hiding the stink, Life rolls the stone away, and speaks into the darkness. While we too often remain bound in the grave clothes of our own grief, Life orders the cloth bonds loosened and for us to go free.
And that so beautifully captures the divine intention for all of us.
“Untie him and let him go.”
He longs for us to be untied, unbound, unhindered, and finally, fully, set free. And he longs to usher us into the ensuing reunion and celebration. Death is but a stop along the way to the ultimate destination of Life.
And that, as Gandalf would say, is a comforting thought.
Where in your life are you needing to experience the Resurrection and the Life right now? Where do you need to have the courage to roll the stone away, smell the stench, and allow God to bring life?
Author of Life, you came “to destroy him who holds the power of death, and to deliver those who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Let this liberation of Life seep into all the corners of my existence, setting me free from mere existence into real, abiding, deepening life. Give me the courage to approach the caves of my life that have died long ago. Allow me the strength to roll the stone aside and step back trusting you to bring life into the shadows of death. Through Christ.