Thursday, June 26, 2014


He was a close friend of Jesus Christ whose friendship was not enough to garner the attention he and his sisters thought appropriate. Yet, when the great need came, Jesus was nowhere to be seen. They sent word, hoping against hope, for Jesus to come before it was too late. However, it was not going to happen. Jesus delayed—simply procrastinated for all they knew—his return and Lazarus died.
     Four days after his death, Jesus finally arrived and, much to the dismay of Lazarus’ sisters, seemed rather unconcerned with the brutal reality. He had other things in mind.      Mary and Martha were angry with God, angry with Jesus, and grieving bitterly over the death of their brother. “If you had been here,” Martha chastised Jesus, “my brother would not be dead.”      Martha was a practical woman. She had little use for vague spirituality and talk of things which were beyond her logical, reasonable, and highly rationalized existence. She is remembered as the one who was so distracted with housekeeping and proper decorum that she had no use for the teaching and blessing Jesus had to offer. She lived, bound in a world where truth is defined in mathematical, practical, and functional rules which could not be broken, not even by Jesus Christ. Controlling her environment with these rules and practical sensibilities was critical to her identity. She was one who had to know what was happening and thrived on being in control of the process. It gave her security, peace, and assurance.  It is easy to understand her anger at Jesus. At the death of her brother, and Jesus’ seeming lack of concern for the situation, she was out of control and that made her angry, afraid, and defensive.      “Lord, if you had been here,” Mary then called out to Jesus, “my brother would not have died.”  Yet, unlike her angry sister, Mary’s cry was in tears. She was a deeply passionate woman; the one to wear her emotions on her sleeve, the one to disregard her sister’s practicality for her spiritual dreams and hopeful visions. She believed in a God bigger than practicality, sometimes to her own demise. Yet, like Martha, Mary was also in the throes of grief. She was bound up in a world of raw spirituality and fanciful hope. It was Mary that disregarded the important chores of the house in order to sit at the feet of Jesus and it would be Mary who would opulently anoint the feet of Jesus only days before his crucifixion—an outlandish expression of spiritual love that all the practical disciples found ridiculously wasteful and irresponsible. It is easy to understand why she felt so betrayed since the faith she clung to so tightly had failed to deliver. Her brother was dead and there was no getting him back. The controlling forces of life and death had closed in on her brother, rendering prayerful hope and fervent faith irrelevant. Painfully accepting the inevitable, she poured her tears out at the feet of Jesus seeking some form of reassurance to assuage her catastrophically broken heart.      Jesus met these two women in their grief—Martha in her anger stemming from her complete loss of practical control over her world and Mary in her tears stemming from her inevitable surrender to the practical control of natural forces. Two people, bound in the chains of their own limited theology and understanding of the world, each engaging Jesus in the only way their faith would allow.      Together, they approached the tomb where the body of Lazarus was buried. Then, in a powerful demonstration of his amazing empathy and compassion, Jesus cried at the tomb of his dead friend. Then, through his tears, Jesus demanded that the tomb be opened.      Inside lay a man who had been friend to many. Like his sisters, Lazarus was also bound. Yet unlike the emotional bindings of stark partiality or blind spirituality, Lazarus was bound in the shroud of death. His was a physical binding—constrained to the bands of cloth used to envelop the body prior to burial. Yet, Jesus transforms the reality to open the eyes of all that we may see a much deeper binding.    
     Jesus Christ prayed, and then cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus! Come out!” Much to the amazement of all gathered, Lazarus—the man who had been bound in death—began to walk out. Jesus had liberated him from the bonds of death. Yet the scene was woefully incomplete. Lazarus had life, but he could not live. Death still shrouded him. Although no longer dead, he remained bound in the burial clothes and tight bindings in which his body was tightly held. Even his face was covered. Truly, Lazarus was the living dead—physically alive and yet unable to live. It would take a second miracle to grant true life!       Leaving the miracle incomplete, Jesus then turned to those gathered to witness the power of God. He called out to everyone present, “You! Unbind him and let him go.” Jesus gave Lazarus his life, but he entrusted the people of Bethany, the village where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived, to liberate him from the bindings so that he could truly live—it took a community to fulfill the miracle of Jesus Christ!      At least three people were unbound that day. Martha was freed from her bindings of practicality and the need to control her world. Mary was released from her bindings of hapless spirituality and her need to spiritualize everything without regard to reality. Lazarus was released from the bindings of death and the discouraging culture which, if left bound up, will inevitably destroy the true life of any Christian community. All because of Jesus’ power and the faithful efforts of the gathered community.    
     Yet, in this story from the 11th chapter of John, unbound more than just these three. All of Bethany was unbound from their fear of death, their strict adherence to coldly rational practicality, and their blind faith in unrealistic superstition. They were unbound from their prison of death as they came together to unbind the one to whom Jesus had given new life. They were unbound from individuality to become community.      

      The culture of death to which Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were inextricably bound has often been restored in our modern culture. Holding strictly to Martha’s practicality, Mary’s Superstition, or Lazarus's solemn existence, the church will stay bound Imagine, the church that has been given new life in Jesus Christ may never be able to lift its hands in praise to the God who gives us life. Fixed on what is wrong, what can never be, or what is simply irrational will only drive a church back into the tomb where life cannot thrive. The call of Christ, however, echoes past the pages of scripture, across the span of time, and barriers of culture, language, technology, and belief. It calls to us today. To the Mary’s and Martha’s of our church, Jesus calls out. To the bystanders just waiting to see what God will do, Jesus calls out. To the people afraid of the death of our church, Jesus calls out. To the people who see only hope and promise, Jesus calls out. To those who are angry, Jesus calls out. To those who are in tears, Jesus calls out. To you and I, the ones who look longingly at Jesus with the heartfelt and dismayed frustration that Jesus should have done more to preserve this church we so love, Jesus calls out. Now it is our turn, for Jesus has called out:
“Unbind him, and let him go!”