Upon his return, Lazarus brought tidings of great joy that apply to all of us.
as told by Deborah, based on the NRSV
Mary ran from the house to Jesus and fell at his feet, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who were there with her, weeping as well, his spirit was wrenched and his heart ached. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said, "Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to weep.
At that, the Jews said, "See how he loved him!” But some said, “If he could open the eyes of the blind man, couldn’t he have kept this man from dying, too?”
Then Jesus, greatly stirred up, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man’s sister, said, "Lord, there will be a stench: he’s been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Didn't I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.
And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank You for having heard me. I knew that You always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that You sent me."
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus come out!"
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him and let him go."
It was not darkness, as they say: neither were there were howling shades or weeping sylphs or glowering specters, no wizened old boatman fording a misty river. Only quiet, an enveloping stillness: a silence beyond silence, as if suspended in air, or encased in stone. There was neither heat nor cold, neither chill nor warmth, neither light nor shadows; no movement or motion. All sensations ceased. Time was not: no past nor present nor future. There was nothing: no-thing.
Then a distant light, growing …. Drawing nearer, drawing me toward it. Images rising and fading, unfolding, chasing one another, whirling past: and I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
And a voice: a shout; a thundering, a shaking of the earth; a force shattered the stillness. Light poured in as if a curtain had been rent from top to bottom. Strength and joy and understanding pulsed through me, flowing, surging. Life! I was being born.
The voice, the author of that shout, called to me — summoned me, irresistibly. I wanted to run to him, but my legs were unsteady; my body, my arms, were held back, restrained. Tearing the cloth from my face, I was dazzled by the light; slowly the shapes took the form of those I knew and loved. All around me was chaos, confusion, cacophony: sobbing, laughter, shouts, screams, cries of Hallelujah!
Hands, at first hesitant, tentative, then eager, anxious, loosed the linen strips, and freed me from those terrible constraints. My sisters, their oh-so-beautiful faces wet with tears, staring at me rapturously, tenderly, as if I were … an angel? a sunrise? Something magnificent, wonderful. Miraculous. Mary repeating my name, over and over, clinging to me as if she would never let go; Martha running her hands over me: patting my chest, my shoulders, my back, my face — as if to assure herself that I was really real.
And then Jesus, standing before me, smiling. How can I describe the Holy One of God: the radiance of his presence, the great love and compassion in his heart shining within him and through him and illuminating the very world! “The glory of God,” I whispered — and Martha turned suddenly to gaze at Jesus’ face. “Yes!” she cried, “As he promised, I have seen the glory of God with my own eyes! Here, in our midst.”
The Lord reached out and took me by the shoulders, looking me up and down, “Lazarus, my friend, I am very pleased!” His voice seemed to echo — to answer back, like a rumble from within the cavern, “I am pleased!”
Then Martha, the ever-practical, slipped her arm through mine, “Right now it is to the bath for you, and into clean clothes,” a pause; a quick, tremulous grin, “You need to look nice for …. for your party.”
And so my funeral banquet was turned into a celebratory feast. All things were made new.
I could hear the laughter and noisy conversation as I dried myself — the dust from the tomb washed away, vanished into the earth, the odor of death replaced with the fragrance of citrus and lemongrass. Tying my robe over my tunic — both immaculately clean, as Martha had ensured — I was acutely aware of everything around me: the cloth against my skin, the birds twittering in the rafters, the chickens scratching and squawking in the yard, the breeze rustling the trees; the walls bearing the imprints of workmen’s trowels and hammers on the wood and clay; the scent of the stew bubbling in its pot; the interweaving voices of my friends and family like choruses of angels; my senses alive to every nuance, every shape and color, every sound and scent and texture. I staggered, and leaned against the doorway, breathing deeply: overcome — intoxicated — by the richness and glory of all that is. All that was given to me. To us. To all who are blessed to live upon this earth.
This is the day that the Lord hath made.
No one knows that better than I.
Since then, life — oh, that such a small word could contain so much, much meaning! — life continues; in some ways as it had been, but never the same.
At first, as the story of my return became known, there was a great increase of traffic on the little road that passes our home; for a time enterprising local children were selling toasted almonds to the gawkers. Soon — as it was clear that I was well and truly alive — the neighborhood again grew quiet, and rumors began spread that it was all a hoax: that I had had only a mild illness; that we were liars seeking to inflate the reputation of Jesus; that what I claimed to be true — that so many had witnessed — had never happened.
Let them shout and howl and mock: it is harmless noise, chaff blowing across a field. For I have seen with my own eyes and touched with my own hands — the Word of God made flesh; nothing can dim or demean that magnificent Truth.
And please, do not be misled by my bodily restoration: that was, in a way, the lesser miracle, for on that day I was renewed in soul and spirit, as well. Mary has said that I “came alive” in every sense of the word; I have (re)entered into life with new enthusiasm, new courage, and new joy.
That morning, that extraordinary, sunlit morning, I saw the Lord Jesus with my human eyes, and yet with more than mere understanding: seeing Who He Is, experiencing His love, recognizing His compassion for us, and His gracious willingness to confront the human condition: to walk with us, weep with us, to eat with us, to laugh and rejoice with us, and even to suffer and die as we suffer and die.
“What kind of ‘god’ would do such things?” the scoffers ask.
What kind, indeed?
Temptations — and, I confess, there were many — have melted away; their charms and enticements now disempowered, meaningless, ridiculous. This is not to say I have become sinless, flawless, angelic — that is laughable. My family and I arise each morning, say our prayers, eat our meals, work and worship, love and laugh — and squabble sometimes, it is true; we make mistakes, we make amends, we are assailed by human frailties and frustrations — but we never forget the miracle of our lives, or the grace and majesty of the One Who is at the center of them.
Others have not been so blessed — or willing to be blessed — by the coming of the Lord Christ. There are those who are offended by His words, who hate Him and, therefore, me, for my very presence is a testimony to Who He Is. Their anger is explosive and irrational; their urge to crush Him, to silence His Gospel, wild and violent. They chatter endlessly against the Lord. It is as if the demonic is enraged by His name, incensed by the Light that pours into the world through Him, desperate to exterminate the hope, the compassion, the love that He brings.
And yet, He lives.
Despite the worldly powers conspiring to crucify and bury His body, the Lord Christ has become still greater: His Gospel extending into all the world, sending up shoots in distant fields, forming sturdy branches in towns and villages, even taking root in large cities. It is as if a tiny seed has grown into a tree in which all of the birds of the earth may rest.
He lives! The Lord Christ lives in the radiant, inextinguishable Light of heaven, the eternal yes! of life and love and hope that will not be crushed or silenced. He lives! He lives with us and within us; sustaining us, strengthening us, encouraging us. In His life we have life: a full life here — and eternal life hereafter.
As for me, one day those enthralled by evil may indeed succeed in killing my body, but they cannot kill my soul; I have no fear of them.
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and I heard a loud voice from the heavenly throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”
And the One seated on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.” And He told me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
~ the Book of Revelation, 21:1-6a
He lives! What greater blessing can I give you?
apostle of the Living Lord Christ
Imagine what it would be like to look upon your life as Lazarus looked upon his.
Imagine if a loved one died suddenly — and was then restored to you.