‘Lazarus, come out!”
And the (formerly) dead man came out.
And then what?
And then what? What kind of life did Lazarus live then? Did he welcome death, fear it less? Was he surprised by it? Did he hold on to life with more– or less –tenacity? What did things mean to him?
What binds you? There are many ways to diminish a life and bind up its possibilities.
A friend and I were talking today about the power of criticism we received when young. I’m talking about some major power here. The constant perfectionist criticism of an art teacher that binds a talented student to the point she abandoned her art. The humiliation of a “hip” gym teacher (blond, beautiful, trimly muscular) who bound a student in her awkward insecurity about her body, and whose humiliating comments bind her still whenever she tries to get physical. It’s astonishing how years later these comments probably mean nothing to the person who made them, if indeed they are remembered at all. At the same time, grown, talented, intelligent women remember every nuance of the comments 45 years later. As my friend says, they still take up real estate.
It’s not just criticism that binds us hand and foot. Bullying from peers leaves scars forever. Abuse. Hunger. War. Grief. Violence. Addictions. Tyrannical bosses. Corporations and congregation that suck the lifeblood out of employees. Sexual harassment, assault, trafficking. Obligations in a dysfunctional family system. Caregiving for sick and aging family members. Paying the bills in a dysfunctional healthcare system. Racism. Gangs. Sexism. Bipartisan impasse. Even our wealth can become binding and restrictive. Even our possessions from time to time threaten to possess us. It’s amazing anyone can wiggle at all through the bonds wrapping us hand and foot.
Hunger is a devious binding. It’s not hard to believe that just throwing food at hunger solves the problem. The binding lasts a lifetime. “Food Insecurity” describes both the immediate pain in the belly from an uncertain food supply as well as the lasting insecurity created by living through such a time. Think about those Depression era children. I knew a young woman once who as a child escaped from Cuba with her family. As a young adult, she said she still thought about food all the time, and still found the variety of foods in our local grocery overwhelming. That was before the superstores we have now.
Unbind him and let him go.
Unbind all of them, and let them go.
They unwrapped him.
And then, and then what?
I imagine they gave him something to eat, just to prove to themselves that he wasn’t a ghost. (Ghosts don’t eat.)
And then, and then what?
How do you turn and leave a loved one in the grave? I see how hard this is at funeral after funeral, how awkward.
But how do you turn and leave a man who has just walked out of that same grave? “Bye, see you later?” “Have a good day!” “Happy Friday!” “After while, Crocodile!” “Back atcha!” “Need anything before I go?” Nothing. Quite. Works. “Well….then?”
And Lazarus, after he is finished with his eggs and toast and maybe a bit of coffee to clear the fog, what does he do?
Unbound from one death, he starts planning for the next one? Imagine the awkward moment sitting down with the funeral director for advance planning. It might also require another visit to the lawyer to review that Last Will and Testament that turned out to be the next-to-last Will and Testament so unexpectedly.
Unbound from one death, he hides from those who took offense at his unbinding and seek to kill him again. Did they think they could make Death stick this time? That took some kind of hubris (fancy Latin for “Balls.”)
Whenever Lazarus passed a funeral cortege with its linen wrapped body being carried to a tomb, did he have an irrepressible urge to lift the binding even a little, just to make sure?
And how about all those others who are bound up by hunger, disease, and all the bindings I described before plus a million or so more? Did Lazarus give spare change whenever he passed the man born blind who begged at the corner? Did he imagine that every little bit he could do to loosen the bindings of others made him more free too?
It’s impossible to know. That Gospel Writer does it again. He looks over his shoulder, winks at you while laying his finger against his nose and nods. We don’t know what happened to Lazarus, and he’s not going to tell us. Instead, he nods again and points to your chest with a sly smile.
You are Lazarus. You drowned in baptism, and Jesus called out to tell them to unbind you so that you could live free from the power of death, sin and the devil. What kind of life do you have? Do you fear death less, or life more? Does mortality surprise you when death does indeed come again? Do you hold on to your spare change, or do you drop it in the beggar’s cup? Do we lift the bindings on the bodies as the funeral cortege passes, just to make sure, just in case?
What does this mean, to be unbound and given our lives back, and given back to our loved ones? given back to the world?