John 11. 32-44
Life isn’t heartbeats and breaths. It’s Jesus!
I have to admit, first time I read the passage, this go-round, I was a little disappointed. A little let down. Here we are. On All Saints Sunday – one of the major festivals of the church year – and we end up reading the same old same old. This passage is everything we’ve been taught to look for. Everything we’ve been trained to expect. White bread. Such a stereotype. So cliché. Lazarus lives. Lazarus dies. Jesus brings him back to life. And they live happily-ever. That’s the way it is, with believing. The way it’s always been. It comes down to the life everlasting. Literal. Inerrant. Infallible. “Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.” Nearly four thousand verses of gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. And for some reason, it’s these thirteen we read, today of all days. But there’s more to it than that. There has to be. More than just living. And dying. And living.
I came across a quote, a couple, three weeks ago. From e.e. cummings. American. Poet. Painter. Playwright. “Unbeing dead,” he says, “isn’t being alive.”
Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.
There’s more to it – to life – to living – than a beating heart. Than taking one more breath. And, of course, there would, also, be more to this particular day. To this particular day and to this particular passage. So, with that quote in mind, I went back to John, chapter eleven. And to tell you the truth, I was surprised. Surprised, not so much by what I saw, but by what I didn’t!
You see, there’s nothing about immortal souls! No out-of-body experiences! Nothing about anything we tend to imagine! In fact, the whole thing’s pretty down-to-earth! Pretty matter-of-fact! Lazarus dies. His hand and feet are bound. His face wrapped. And he’s laid in a tomb, a stone placed against it. And the people weep. Nothing paranormal. Nothing otherworldly. Earth-to-earth, ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, kind of stuff. But here’s the surprising thing … Jesus doesn’t send Lazarus on his way, from this world to the next. Jesus doesn’t welcome him into the sweet by-and-by. But instead, he brings him back! Back onto this side of the grave! There’s no crossing over! No passing on! And that’s important! That means something … to us …
You see, according to popular religion, all this is expendable, disposable. It’s unimportant. It doesn’t matter. All to ready to crumple up and toss aside. We’re all halos and harps! All wings and white robes! But there’s none of that in the passage! In the story of Lazarus! In fact, it’s the complete opposite! Truth is, we’re not angels! Never meant to be! We’re people! Just people! Plain! Ordinary! Creatures! So, John doesn’t say anything about heaven. Because it’s creation – cosmos – that matters! Right here! Right now! This is where God means for us to live and move and have our being! Unbeing dead isn’t being alive, any more than unbeing alive isn’t being dead! And that something more is what this day – and this passage – is all about! So I reread the words, one more time. And right away, I saw it in a different light!
Mary comes to Jesus. Kneels at his feet. And she says, “If you’d have been here, my brother would not have died.” “Lord, if you’d had been here, my brother would not have died!” Now, I’ve always taken those words to mean that if Jesus had been there, he could have healed Lazarus as he had so many others. And having healed him, Lazarus would never have died. Jesus would have said all the right words. He would have waved a magic wand. And it would have all gone away. But Jesus hadn’t and Lazarus did. But now … Now, Jesus is, and Lazarus does! Lives, that is!
What if that’s the connection? The connection John wants us to make? Just a few verses before, Jesus tells Mary’s sister, “I’m the life!” “Those who believe in me,” he says, “though they die live! And everyone who believes never dies!” What if Jesus isn’t talking about life after dying? What if he’s not talking about an immortal soul? What if he’s talking about himself? Jesus is the heartbeat! Jesus is the breath! Where Jesus isn’t, life isn’t! Where Jesus is, that’s where life is! If we breathe, when we don’t, it doesn’t matter! We live! Jesus is the resurrection! Jesus is the life! “Those who believe in me, who trust me, who stake their lives is me, even though they die live! Those who believe in me, who trust me, who stake their lives in me, they never die!” There’s more to it! There’s Jesus! There’s always Jesus!
We spend our whole life wandering around looking for heaven. But that’s not what this passage is about! We should be looking for Jesus! For Jesus and, as the song says, for his love! And that’s not something we find up high and far away. We discover it … right here! Down-to-earth and close-at-hand! Beside us! Between us! What we should be looking for … Who we should be expecting … is Jesus! Jesus! “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” And the flip side … “But now that you’re here, my brother lives! My brother is alive!” It’s Jesus! Jesus who is the life! Jesus who makes us live! He’s what – who – makes all the difference! Not, just, on the other side! But here! And now! Even if we die, we live! Because of him!
What happens when we close our eyes for the last time? I don’t know. What was it like for Lazarus? Lying there in the grave? Hands and feet bound? Head and face wrapped? We’re never told. All that matters, all that’s important, is Jesus! When Jesus directs, Lazarus appears! When Jesus demands, the dead live! Earth to earth … to earth, again! Ashes to ashes … to ashes! Dust to dust … to dust, once more! Because Jesus is here! That’s who Jesus is! We’re creatures! We’re people! We’re earth and ashes and dust God so loved! Creatures, people, God so loves!
This may not be what we’re looking for. What we’re expecting. But this is the moment we become what we’ve never been! This is when we see ourselves as we are! When that happens, the search comes to an end. And we realize it’s enough! In fact, it’s more than enough!