In our Lectionary Study we looked at the various characters in the Gospel. We thought about what it would have been like for each of them and how we were like or unlike each one. As you read the Gospel, what did you wonder about each one? The sisters are mourning – each in her own way – Mary sitting beside Lazarus, Martha busy with greeting neighbors who come to mourn with them. The disciples are afraid, except for Thomas. Lazarus is dying and then dead and buried. Jesus moves with confidence through the scene but even he is caught up in the grief and weeps. Any of us who have been through the death of a loved one can recognize all these people and their feelings and actions. The person I wonder about most today is Lazarus.
Lazarus: Cut off from family and friends, bound up first in his illness and then bound by the wrappings in grave. Entangled in death. Once he sat at table with his sisters and Jesus, a place bright with conversation, sustained by the bread and wine shared. Now cut off from them by death.
I wonder how we become cut off from family and friends, how can tables of friendship become empty and forlorn? What parts of our selves are dead to hope and joy? Where in our lives are we bound by expectations of ourselves and others. Where do we feel like something within us has died. Places where we feel I might as well give up?
In Lander I used to have tea with a woman who certainly could have felt this way. She was quite old, had health issues, was almost blind, her husband had divorced her and married a younger woman after she had used her money and ideas to help him live his dreams. But she did not lay down and die though many days were hard. The things that sustained her were her faith – worshipping regularly even on those days when she felt like God was far from her, seeing friends and being a friend – I never visited her that I did not come away energized by being with her, and her joy of being alive. I still remember the day she told me that she had had two fruit trees planted in the back yard. She told me her friends thought she was silly as she could not see them and she would not live long enough to enjoy their fruit. But she did not stay bound by their ideas of what she could NOT do – she was doing it for a sign of her hope and belief in the future – even one she might not see.
This is how I see this story in the Gospel of John. Jesus is that kind of hope – the one who breaks through our daily deaths, and promises life, who calls us to break bread and drink wine that we might consume that hope he incarnates – brings into the world. Death has no power, what we have done with our lives until this moment is not the point – the point is choosing life now. We can leave behind those things that separate us from one another. And God promises that nothing we have done nor is done to us can separate us from God. And each time we take communion – we affirm that truth – we take the bread and the wine and know that God dwells within us each time – it is sacrament – making holy – acknowledging that we are the dwelling place of the Most High God. Jesus calls Lazarus from his isolation and separation – “come out” — come out and live fully as you were created to be. And he expects the community will follow up, saying, “unbind him” — for so often the binding has come from outside – the messages that we are not worthy enough, have the wrong sort of whatever – all the things that people use to build themselves up by tearing others down. Jesus confronts the isolation and separation -whether of our own or others making – and says – do something about this. Don’t take it laying down. Do not stay dead, do not allow others to stay dead.
The Rev. Ann Fontaine is the Interim Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Astoria OR. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.