The Story of Lazarus

April 1, 2017

A few years ago I read a statement by a man who is strongly opposed to religion. He said: 'I don't know why people still believe in God. If your car breaks down you take it to a garage, not to a priest.' Well, yes of course. If my car breaks down I take it to the garage too, I don't pray over it. But this misses the point. I would love to have been able to ask the critic this question: Do you think that human beings are like a car engine? Is that how you think of yourself and others? As one big machine? Where is your soul? A car engine never fell in love or wrote a poem or dreamed of new possibilities. A car will never belong to the family circle.

We wonderful human beings do all these things and more besides. Yes, we depend on our liver and our heart and other organs, and one day these will fail us. But we are much more than the sum of our parts. We are human beings. We are persons. We have soul. And because of this each of us is precious, each of us unique, and there is nothing like us, each one of us. We are part of a network of people who love us and enjoy our company, because we are not engines, but living faces.

In today's gospel reading we hear Jesus weep. 'See how much he loved Lazarus' said some of the onlookers. Jesus is part of this network of friends and family, just like us. He has come to Bethany, where Martha and Mary and Lazarus were his friends, and where there was always a warm welcome for him. Bethany is almost a suburb of Jerusalem, and in their house at Bethany Jesus always found a welcome.
Now he stands at the mouth of the cave: 'Lazarus, come out.' He calls Lazarus by name. The impossible happens. Lazarus emerges blinking into the sunlight. For a time, Lazarus is restored to those who love him. It is a sign that God has entered into our world, that he is with us in Christ and will roll back even the power of death. Death is so strong that the richest and most powerful cannot resist it. Only God could do this, and by doing this God shows that the love which ties us to others matters to God also.

The story of Lazarus is a promise. It is a promise that we are more than the engine we call our body. We are flesh and blood, and that is important, but we are more than flesh and blood. We are known and beloved by God in Christ. Christ knows us by name. He calls us by name now, in our daily discipleship, and one day, at the end, he will call us by name for one last time. More than this, we will find that we are part of a great company. Just as Lazarus was restored for a time to those who loved him, we will find ourselves once more part of that network of those whose faces are turned towards us with love. Only this time, for Lazarus and for us, this network will never be severed. It will be God's last and greatest gift to us, a place where we belong. The tomb of Christ is empty. Because death cannot hold him, it cannot hold any of those who are part of Christ.     

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