Dear Siblings in Christ:
This Sunday’s text from John feels a little too real and a little too magical for these days. I always struggle with these death-but-not-death stories of resurrection; these stories in which to make some alive again and leave others dead is a divine choice. Surely, as Jesus journeyed to Bethany, he and his entourage passed other families in mourning because of the death of a loved one or in anxiety due to illness in their home or sleepless because of economic distress or lonely or isolated or… The world is full of suffering and yet Jesus focused all his divine energy on one of his friends. The pain and suffering of those Jesus loved and the anger they have for his initial inaction are very real but the resurrection part feels just a bit too magical or ideal.
Regardless of that, there is one small detail that has always made the message of this story a little more real for me. Just before Jesus raises Lazurus from the dead, Martha says “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” These are not the words of someone who is certain that Jesus is going to do what Jesus said he would do. They are the exasperated words of someone on an emotional roller coaster who doesn’t want to be let down one more time. She sees Jesus as a healer, without question, but seems to doubt his ability to bring Lazurus back to life. She’s accepted Lazurus’ death as real and final. I wonder if she also started to see the real mourning Jesus was in and maybe even his remorse for not being with his friend as he died. Maybe, in this moment, she saw the humanity of a great teacher and by speaking of the reality of Lazarus’ death was trying to save Jesus from looking like a fool. This personal exchange is the climax of the very emotional and intimate human storyline before we are reminded of the divinity of Jesus once again.
We don’t know where we are in the arc of this COVID-19 story, yet. We don’t know what is going to come next, for sure. Every forecast is an untested hypothesis based on an intersection of possibilities we have never had to try and figure out before. Yet, as we are locked up in these tombs of isolation and distancing and uncertainty one thing is certain. Its been several days and it stinks. That part couldn’t be more real.
The big difference between the story of Lazarus’s loved ones and now is we know this will end. There will be a day when there is a vaccine or a cure. There will be a day when we will be able to take a look at the extraordinary measures we are taking, now, and it will be recognized as not just a means to survive but an act of love. On that day, the door of the tomb will open and…
Well, it will still stink for a while. We will enter into a period of unbinding and cleaning and reconnecting and re-learning not to flinch when we hear someone cough. We will struggle to recover economically and socially and mourn those who have died.
And then we will share a meal with friends or give a hug or sing a hymn in a shared sanctuary or go listen to live music or enjoy a potluck and we will share a smile and joyful tears in celebration of this new life. Of this resurrection to come, I am certain.