Lent 5, A
It was a tough labor. The mother worked hard, really hard – even before time to push she seemed exhausted. The time finally came. She pushed and she pushed, and eventually it became clear part of why things were so very difficult. Most babies enter this world facing down. It’s simply the easiest fit. This youngster, for whatever reason, came into this world sunny side up, looking right up into my eyes as she began the extraordinary experience of breathing air. I can still see her wide-eyed, brand-new, baby face vividly, although she’s probably taller than me now. I remember those bright, clear eyes gazing into my own even before we brought the rest of her body out into the light.
I wonder what they think, sometimes. I have a good sense of the range of emotion of the parents and grandparents waiting for them. But what of those brand new arrivals, blinking in the light, newly encountering “wet” as an unpleasant cold sort of thing after a lifetime surrounded by warm, soothing, protective water.
I wonder what Lazarus thought. If Google images are to be believed then during his brief interlude with death, Lazarus laid in a low stone cave with a truncated entryway that forced a person to bend nearly double to egress. His tomb would be difficult to exit gracefully, even for a nimble, healthy person wearing comfortable clothes. Wearing a death shroud and shaking off the stiffening, stinkifying effects of death could not have improved his agility any. Awkward. Just terribly awkward.
The Easter service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City traditionally begins with the bishop standing outside the door, rapping on the front door. The door swings dramatically open in answer to his call and a glorious Easter processional is set in motion. One particular Easter Sunday the bishop stood outside, prepared with his staff and his bulletin and the text of his sermon and his Easter vestments, mic on. Anticipating the rapping at the door and the Bishop’s traditional triumphant Easter announcement “Christ is risen!”, the congregants instead heard over the prematurely live mic the struggling bishop’s less traditional opinion, “This is awkward.” Resurrection is awkward. “Life coming into death at any time, anywhere, is awkward.” (The Rev. Dr. B. Wiley Stephens. Whenever Jesus Shows Up, Day1)
It’s awkward. The timing. Birth. Life. Death. This is the way it works. This is the way we understand the world. And so we ask the questions – reasonable questions – what happens when I die, when my loved one dies, why weren’t you there when he was dying, Lord?
Easter holds answers to some of those questions, but this is Lent and those are not the questions for today. Jesus brings Lazarus back to life, it is true, but still we are on the road to Jerusalem, to the cross. Lazarus is alive, but he will die again, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. He is alive today, not because Jesus offers eternal life, but so that we might learn to live today, now.
Canadian theologian Jean Vanier writes,
Jesus wants us to rise up and to become fully alive. He calls us out of the tomb we carry within us, just as God called Ezekiel to raise up from the dead all those people of Israel who were lying in the tomb of despair: “Thus says the Lord God,“I am going to open your tombs and raise you up from your tombs, O my people…. I will put my spirit in you and you shall live.” -Ezekiel 37:12,14. This is what Jesus wants for each one of us today. To each of us he says: “Take away the stone!” … This resurrection is a process that begins every morning, every night, every day. We are called on a journey of resurrection, to do the work of God, to bring love into our families, our communities and the world.
Each and every day we are called to death – death of self-serving self-interest, death of greed, death of expediency, death of apathetic inaction. Each and every day we are called to recognize the living breath of God blowing through us, around, within us. Each and every day Jesus weeps with us in our sorrows, loves us. Each and every day we are called upon to unbind the shrouds of self-doubt, social isolation, systemic prejudice, fear, grief, oppression from our fellow travelers on this resurrection road. (concept from Miles, Veronice; Feasting on the Word). Each and every day we are born again. Open your eyes. Roll away the stone. Feel the breath of God. Live again…and again. Amen.