From the perspective of two millennia, the fact that some guy named Lazarus gets to walk around Bethany an extra twenty or thirty years is no big deal. But the fact that Jesus has conquered death for all eternity is a very big deal… the biggest deal that ever
was or ever will be.
Jesus is telling us: You want signs that I’m the Messiah? How about the blind see; the deaf hear; lepers are cleansed and devils are cast out? But I’m saving the best for last. Jesus doesn’t rush to Lazarus’ bedside to cure him. He waits until Lazarus is four days in the tomb to call him forth. He could have saved Martha and Mary a lot of grief with a quick, pop-in cure. But, as always, Jesus has a bigger point to make. And it doesn’t get bigger than: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Before Jesus came among us, Death was the grim reaper, the all-powerful terminator come to extinguish us all. Jesus changes all of that. Death is not the dreaded conclusion to a meaningless existence. Our fate is not extinction. Death is a beginning, not an end. It is our passage to a life that will never end. Death came into the world through sin. It was conquered by the Sinless.
C.S. Lewis wrote that Jesus: “Tasted death on behalf of all others. He is the representative ‘Die-er’ of the universe; and for that very reason (he is) the Resurrection and the life.” Lewis sees mortal death as both a frightful inconvenience and a necessary conveyance, writing that: “How awful it must have been for poor Lazarus who actually died, got it over, and then was brought back to go through it all a few years later.”
Mankind’s best minds are working hard at extending our human life another twenty or thirty years. Christians admire and support their efforts. We respect life as a gift from God; and we do all in our power to preserve it. But ultimately, like the extra years added to the earthly life of Lazarus, we know that every moment of life is God’s to give or to take away… on his schedule and for his purpose. In the context of eternity, getting to play a few bonus rounds of earthly overtime is no big deal.
What is a big deal is that sin and death have no mastery over us. Jesus took both to the cross and triumphed over them in the Resurrection. So, while Death is not an end to all, it definitely is an end to the time available to us either to accept or to reject the grace of salvation. Unlike Lazarus, death will be a once in a lifetime experience for us. As such it will be a very big deal in each of our lives. And like anything that is important, we need to do it well. That takes practice… not rehearsing deathbed farewells… but constantly drawing closer and closer to Christ, making our earthly life a living prayer to the glory of God. The closer we get, the more we cut Death down to size… and the more we are prepared for life everlasting, face to face with God, in the joyful company of the blessed. Now that really is a great big deal.
The Reverend David Sellery, Author, Resource Creator and Retreat Leader. Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, I serve as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, congregational development and community outreach, while continually engaging our wider culture with dynamism and hope.
Photo: The Resurrection of Lazarus, Giotto, 1305-8, detail, including taking away the stone