LENT 5, A
Because the Gospels are about Jesus, our preaching each week usually focuses on the Gospel and on the action to and by Jesus. This is appropriate, and then we ask what does this story or the behavior of Jesus tell us about Jesus or God and how we are to live in the world today.
In reading the story of Lazarus this week, what struck me is how all the lessons we’ve heard through Lent are preparing us for the experience of resurrection. The seminary trained clergy all say that Lazarus was not resurrected, but only resuscitated, because he will, in fact, die again. But I say that what Lazarus experienced was a resurrection event. The Gospels seldom tell us how the people involved with Jesus feel, but can you imagine what it would have been like to experience death and return as Lazarus did?
Since no one knows for certain what happens when we die, especially if we’re dead for several days, we can only imagine what Lazarus experiences when he “wakes up” in his tomb, realizing where he is and that he is wrapped in funeral linens. How would that feel?
Jesus orders him to come out and he somehow manages to emerge, so that the community of people can unbind him. He is then free to rejoin them and his family in a new phase of his life.
Maybe it would help us to think of resurrection as a process of unbinding. Certainly resurrection, as we know it in this life, is an unbinding of the tethers that held us captive in our old life, allowing us to step into an opportunity for new life. These might be tethers of sin or grief, anger or depression; they may be tethers of fear, or clinging to the past, or longing for what is no longer possible.
It strikes me in looking back at the Lenten lessons that they can be seen as variations on this theme. Jesus emerges from his testing in the wilderness unbound from his past and focused on the future. He is no longer a carpenter, son of Joseph and Mary. He is now a teacher and a prophet, a man called by God to take a new path.
In the story of Nicodemus, Jesus is calling him to new life through a new understanding of the spiritual reality in which his earthly life is embedded. We get that Nicodemus is confused by what Jesus says, but we don’t get to see the results of their encounter from Nicodemus’s point of view.
Jesus calls the Samaritan woman to a deeper understanding of a spiritual life, but their encounter also opens to her new opportunities in her material life. Meeting Jesus is a resurrection experience on multiple levels, because his treatment of her gives her the self-assurance to run tell the villagers, and may thereby give her new status in their eyes. It is through her that the village meets and accepts Jesus.
Think of experiences you’ve had that either boosted or deflated your self-esteem. These should remind us that there can be no resurrection without a death. Now the death of old habits, or sins, or griefs may be considered a good thing, but they are not pleasant to experience! An event that deflates our self-esteem can be felt as a death-like experience. I suspect that the Samaritan woman had had more than her fair share of these. So how would she feel after meeting Jesus?
The story of the man born blind who was cured by Jesus, comedic as it may be, is most clearly a resurrection story if we look at it from the man’s point of view. As a blind man he had no choice in life but to be a beggar. His marriage opportunities were as low as they come. He would not have children. His healing changes all that. Not only can he work at a real job, live a normal life, he can now also worship at the temple, because he has been made whole.
Even being driven out by the Pharisees does not repress his joy and enthusiasm. He gladly turns to Jesus as his new teacher and savior.
The more I study the Gospels, the more I am astonished about seeing new things, new connections, and new implications in them. It now looks to me like Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for his own resurrection as well as opening their eyes to the possibilities of resurrection experiences in their own lives and in the lives of all God’s people.
There are lots of examples. When I walked out of the house one day last week, I felt resurrected because the sun was shining and it was in the 30’s and I could smell spring coming. I felt unbound because I could put my Michilin Man coat away for the season and I didn’t absolutely have to have gloves on.
What about a person who has had a successful heart transplant or someone who has survived cancer? Haven’t you heard them say that they have a whole new outlook on life or that they treasure every day in new ways?
I know two women who have beaten their addiction to crystal meth, and either one could take my place here and give you an hour’s talk on what it’s like to live in the resurrection, about becoming unbound, and the community that helped to unbind them.
I hope you will take some time this week to think about the various resurrection events in your lives. In what way were you unbound by the experience? When did you realize it as a resurrection or a chance for new life? How did you feel? Who helped to unbind you? How long did it take for the unbinding to be completed?
Christians are sometimes referred to as Easter people, but that also means we are resurrection people. We can, and should, and do participate, like Lazarus’s community did, in helping to unbind others. Whenever we boost someone’s self-esteem, whenever we treat everyone with respect and listen to them, whenever we love one another, as Jesus called us to do, we are helping to unbind those around us.
We may not know it at the time; we may have no idea what they are being bound by; we may have no sense of the other person being in need of a little resurrection. It doesn’t matter. We just do what we can to help unbind them.
I believe we are meant to live resurrected lives here on earth. Yes, we will have many death-like experiences in life. Yes, we’re still going to die some day, but living a resurrected life while we are still alive means we can indeed, even at the grave, make our song, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”