Lazarus Sunday

israel-125year-old-man-laughing
laughter of a 125 year old Israeli.
Source unknown.

Lazarus’s laughter brought a challenge to yesterday’s sermon (April 10th 2011). “Doesn’t God only laugh at the wicked?” was my tight-lipped challenger’s question.

According to the Lazarus’s post-mortem report I had picked up from Eugene O’Neill’s play, Lazarus LAUGHED. Lazarus had replied to his sisters’ question about what life was like after death by saying that God’s laughter resounded round heaven. Lazarus too in his post-mortem life could only laugh. That is how he came out of the tomb, with laughter welling up from his whole being.

I thought. Maybe God does laugh at the wicked (though I think he probably takes them more seriously than that), but I am sure he laughs along with the righteous (sorry, theological correction – those he has made righteous).

Two points intrigued me with the Lazarus’s story.

Firstly – it’s what’s in a name. Lazarus isn’t a name you hear much about – would his nickname be Laz-y (we often shorten names to the first syllable and then add a “y”). If we pronounce it Lazzy, his friends would be members of the Lazzy band. Lazarus means “God helps”. He’s from a village called Bethany. Bethany means “house of affliction”. So the story of “Lazarus in Bethany” is the story of “God helps in the house of affliction”.

Secondly, Lazarus stands for all of us. Laz ‘R’ Us. We can’t establish Lazarus’s cause of death for his post-mortem report from John’s gospel (11:1-45). But we know what causes ours – pick any from poverty, abuse, disease, anger, anxiety. We all get ¬†bound up with these, with deadlines, with expectations of others. They all suck the life from us. When Jesus called “Lazarus, come out” he is calling us out of our bind, so that we can have post-mortem life. (How that phrase “coming out” has gained new liberative meaning in recent decades!) No longer bound by his ego, no longer with death on the horizon, Lazarus stands for all of us.

God helps Lazar/us in the house of affliction to laughter and life. When Lazarus laughs, he laughs with all who enjoy post-mortem life, whose date of death is not some time in the future, but a moment in the past.

I was struck by the beauty of this Lazarus blessing by Jan Richardson from her beautifully Painted Prayerbook.

The secret
of this blessing
is that it is written
on the back
of what binds you.

To read
this blessing,
you must take hold
of the end
of what
confines you,
must begin to tug
at the edge
of what wraps
you round.

It may take long
and long
for its length
to fall away,
for the words
of this blessing
to unwind
in folds
about your feet.

By then
you will no longer
need them.

By then this blessing
will have pressed itself
into your waking flesh,
will have passed
into your bones,
will have traveled
every vein

until it comes to rest
inside the chambers
of your heart
that beats to
the rhythm
of benediction

and the cadence
of release.

On death and mission

All that our society has to say suggests that death is the great enemy who will finally get the better of us against our will and desire. But thus perceived, life is little more than a losing battle, a hopeless struggle, a journey of despair. ……. Even though I often give in to the many fears and warnings of my world, I still believe deeply that our few years on this earth are part of a much larger event that stretches out far beyond the boundaries of our birth and death. I think of it as a mission into time, a mission that is very exhilirating and even exciting, mostly because the One who sent me on the mission is waiting for me to come home and tell the story of what I have learned.

Am I afraid to die? I am every time I let myself ber seduced by the noisy voices of my world telling me that ‘my little life’is all I have and advising me to cling to it with all my might. But when I let these voices move to the background of my life and listen to that still small voice calling me the beloved, I know that there is nothing to fear and that dying is the greatest act of love, the act that leads me into the eternal embrace of my God whose love is everlasting.

Henri Nouwen – Life of the Beloved

Imagine

One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die..

How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it … and then – even then – there will be leftovers!

Imagine yourself convinced … that your kindness to your friends, and your generosity to the poor are little mustard seeds that will become strong trees in which many birds can build their nests! Imagine that, in the centre of your heart, you trust that your smiles and handshakes, your embraces and your kisses are only the signs of a worldwide community of love and peace!…Could you ever be depressed, angry resentful or vengeful? Could you ever hate, destroy or kill? Could you ever despair of the meaning of your short earthly existence?

Henri Nouwen – Life of the Beloved