John 11:32-44 – The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, November 1, 2015
“Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, ‘Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.’” (John 11:39)
When given the choice of movies with vampires, werewolves, or zombies, I’ll usually watch the living dead.
As a bright, insightful reader, you may wonder if referencing the zombie genre is my gimmicky way to muse about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
Of course it is!
In John’s Gospel, Jesus stands before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, now dead for four days. As most scholars and many Sunday school teachers know, the four days was critical. According to Rabbinic traditions, the dead were officially dead after the third day.
Thus, the crowd crowding Jesus had many reactions.
“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord . . .’” (John 20:18)
Did Mary pause and turn for a last glance at Jesus before she left the clearing around the tomb?
After Mary realized Jesus wasn’t the gardener, he’d shared reassuring words. He’d instructed her to seek his disciples—“my brothers,” John’s Gospel had Jesus say—and to give them a message. In the fourth Gospel’s take on the resurrection, Mary is the only woman at the tomb. The other three accounts have more and different visiting women. No other Gospel mistakes Jesus for a gardener. Matthew includes at least one tomb guard. All the Gospels describe men (or a man) in white waiting in (or by) the tomb. They are angels, or they are not. For my faith, imagination serves an essential role in (barely) comprehending the resurrection. I don’t think any Gospel writer lied, or had the “better” or more “accurate” resurrection tale. And the four Easter stories—as we casually do with Christmas—shouldn’t be tossed into spring blender so that, like the shepherds and magi, everyone appears at the same place with the same purposes.
I embrace imagination. No one knows what happened. Except you know how you react as you read these early morning moments.
And so I read John’s version.
Mary was leaving to give Jesus’ disciples a message.
John 11:1-45 – The 5th Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, April 6, 2014
“Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:39)
Jesus had left for Ephraim with his disciples.
Mary was tending to Lazarus, by his bed while he slept. (And ate and slept and ate a little more.)
The crowds had dispersed. So many of our neighbors, along with the curious and suspicious, had traveled from the tomb to our home. They’d asked questions, whispered and schemed. There were those that loudly boasted they’d now follow Jesus to heaven or hell or Jerusalem or wherever he led. There were those already exaggerating my brother’s rebirth, telling of Jesus’ casting magical spells or seeing bolts of lightning before the rock at the tomb was removed or hearing angelic mutterings. And there were those who silently watched, never joining in the backslapping and cheering. They skulked away after they’d witnessed Lazarus emerging from the darkness. I knew they despised my brother and resented Jesus. I knew where this last group would go. They may have been close-mouthed here in Bethany, but a few hours later—mark my words—they’d conspire with the priests in the Temple or the Roman soldiers . . . and more likely both.
There was no safe place. Not in Bethany. Not anywhere.
But there was one place where I could be alone. I needed to think. Needed to pray. Needed to ask for forgiveness.
And so I’d returned to my brother’s tomb. Now empty, the hordes gone, and with this long, disturbing, divine day coming to a close. I reassured Mary I’d return before dark. Tonight, I’d stay by Lazarus’ side and give my sister a chance to rest.
In the cool shadow of the tomb’s threshold, its wide opening like a mouth forming a shout, I recalled the last days.
I told everyone, especially when the night of the third day came, that the stench from the tomb was a dead animal. A rat. A mole. A bird dragged inside by a feral cat. The stench was not my brother Lazarus. Continue reading →