Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Resurrection Now

Do we believe that God has the power to bring the dead back to life?
Do we believe that, as God’s incarnate son, Jesus has that same power?
Do we believe that God, working as the Holy Spirit, still has the power to bring us to resurrection?

The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead (John11:1-45) is the third time in a row when Sunday’s gospel lesson exhibits not only John’s verbosity but more importantly his exquisite ability to tell a story. It’s beautiful. Yes, it’s long, but read it aloud. And then read it again. It’s an amazing story. But I wonder whether it’s lost its power.

What does it mean to hear that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Biblical scholars will point out that this is a climax in a series of miracles that show Jesus’ power. This is the pinnacle of his messianic identity. As God’s anointed, he has the ability to do what only God alone can do—bring back the dead. Preachers will talk about Jesus’ prefigurment of his own resurrection through the raising of Lazarus—that this shows us a little bit of what’s coming up. I’m sure they’re both right, but I want to hear what Lazarus means for today.

Lazarus isn’t raised to the new life. He comes from the tomb but one day—we aren’t ever told when—dies again. And that second time he has to wait until everyone comes back. If this is merely a story of Jesus’ power to someday bring us back or a foreshadowing of what will happen to him, it isn’t good enough. I believe this story is about more than that. I want the power of this resurrection to break through in this life because I believe that the power of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t limited to a someday reality. It’s about transformation here and now.

What is it that binds us? What is it that buries us? The answer is different for all of us. Sin might be a summary term, but I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense of “bad deeds.” I mean it in terms of “all that isn’t right with the world.” It’s hunger for hungry people. It’s recovery for addicts. It’s freedom for those who hide in shame. It’s peace for the anxious. It’s reconciliation for the estranged. It’s all of that and more.


What is it that entombs us? Death will someday, but many of us are already dead. We walk through this life but are actually hidden in a tomb, bound in strips of cloth, desperate to be called out. “Lazarus, Come out!” Jesus commands the dead man. How does he say that to us today—not someday but now? “Unbind him and let him go!” Jesus commands those who are watching. How does he say that to us today—to those of us who have imprisoned others in the chains of expectation? How is he calling us to be reborn? How is he calling us to participate in the loosing of others from deathly bonds?

5 comments:

  1. I'm intrigued by this line, "And that second time he has to wait until everyone comes back." Where does Lazarus go then?

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    1. I can't tell for sure whether your question is a clever way of getting me to reconsider my commitment to the resurrection (it's intact) or a reflection of my poorly worded post. If it's the latter, what I meant to say is "that second time (he dies) he has to wait until everyone else comes back (from the dead when Jesus returns at the general resurrection)."

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  2. More like, based on my knowledge of your Protestant proclivities, I'm assuming you don't buy purgatory, so what does the waiting look like? Is it the paradise promised to the thief who repented? Is he immediately taken to the final judgment because in death we are no longer slaves to time and space? I always wonder what people think happens when we die, and your post gave me a chance to get your thoughts.

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  3. Ah! I hadn't really thought of that in this case, but I've enjoyed thinking about it. I believe that conscious existence is impossible without the body. We are body and spirit together not some dualist hybrid-existence. So, wherever Lazarus' soul goes, I believe that it's an unconscious place until the body and soul are reunited at the last day. The soul? My best guess is that is returns to God. I don't know if I'd call that "heaven," but I also don't think it's purgatory or limbo. I'm not really sure what happens to the souls of the damned. Maybe they go somewhere else for a "brief" unconscious sleep before waking when reunited with the body in the same way as the elect. What about you? What do you believe happens in between this life and the next?

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    1. I didn't take Ed Kreider at VTS, but I tend to by Kreiderian in my theology of the afterlife and suspect that Paradise is our home until the new heaven and new earth. What that is and how it is different from heaven, I'm really not sure, but I have to lean this way because I'm a firm believer in the final judgment, wherein, I suspect that most souls, having experienced the unimaginable love of God either in paradise or with Dives in Hades, will make their way to eternal life. That is to say, love wins.

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