I don’t know about you, but I could use a little resurrection right now. A lifting of the veil, a rolling away of the stone, an unbinding of that which is restricting us! I could use a little resurrection about now! Can I get an amen to that?
Our Lent theme has been change —an unexpectedly appropriate choice on our part for these days.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we heard of Jesus’ temptation, in which Jesus refused to change into the person Satan wanted him to be.
On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we heard of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, in which Jesus invited Nicodemus to change his beliefs about God—to believe that God loved the whole world and desired to save the whole world—not just the Jewish people.
On the 3rd Sunday of Lent, we had the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at a well, in which Jesus invited her to change her ideas about her people’s faith, to realize that the Messiah had come to change them all.
Last week, the 4th Sunday of Lent, we had the story of the man born blind being healed by Jesus, a reminder that healing is always God’s desire, healing of bodies, minds, spirits, relationships. That healing is one of the ways that God changes our lives on a regular basis.
And this week the marvelous story of the raising of Lazarus, when Jesus restores his friend to life. Talk about a changed life! From dead to not-dead! That is by far the most dramatic change of all.
One of the ironies of this story is that in John’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the final straw that leads the Jewish leaders to decide that Jesus needs to die–and Lazarus too. Jesus restored life; then others decided to take his life and Lazarus’ life away from them.
Truly, we could not have picked more appropriate gospel texts for this time than those that we have had for this Lent. And just so you know, these are the readings that were assigned in the 3-year lectionary that we and many other denominations use every week. These are not chosen at random. These would have been our readings without COVID-19.
As I said in one of my video devotions this week, we are in the process of being changed by this pandemic, whether we like it or not. The truth is, we don’t always get to choose the changes in our lives. And this is one of those times. We didn’t choose, but we are being changed.
We are being changed by this experience. And while most of long to return to “normal,” by which we mean everything goes back the way it was before, the truth is that there is no going back. When things get back to ‘normal,’ they may look the same on the surface—we may look the same on the surface—but we are not. We will not be the same. We will be changed, like it or not.
I read recently that human beings shed our cells on a regular basis, with old cells being replaced by new cells. The writer was making the point that we are genetically engineered to change—to be in a constant state of change, right up until we cease to breathe. And then, of course, comes the greatest change, from death to life—not restored life like Lazarus—but eternal life like Jesus.
So if we accept the premise that, whether we like it or not, we will be changed by this experience, then consider this: Who do we want to be when it’s all over?
When COVID-19 is just a bad memory, a story we will tell our children and grandchildren about the time when all the toilet paper disappeared and people stayed in their homes for weeks and children got to skip school and parents got to go a little bit crazy. When it’s all over, when it’s all just a part of history, how will we have changed? Who will we be? Who do we want to be?
We know we cannot always control change. We cannot necessarily control the changes that are being forced upon us that this time. But we can decide who we will be in the midst of these enforced changes, in the midst of enforced stay-at-home orders, in the midst of fear and anxiety about the future. We can decide who we will be both in this time of change and in the time after. I would invite you consider how God is working in you now, to change you. And think about who you want to be after COVI-19 is past.
I hope, as I have said quite often in the past weeks, that we are striving to become more like Jesus: more compassionate, more generous, more loving, more merciful. Let this challenging time make you into one who is more like Jesus.
We never hear about Lazarus again after Jesus raises him from the dead. We don’t know if he lives many years, or dies a few months later. Perhaps the Jew leaders were successful in their plots to kill him.
Traditions—that is, unverifiable sources from ancient times—suggest that Lazarus was about 30 when he died and lived another 30 years.
Another version says that Lazarus fled the Jewish leaders and went to the island of Cyprus, south of modern day Turkey. There, Lazarus where he witnessed to Jesus the rest of his life and was eventually made a bishop, and served faithfully in this office for 18 years before dying.
Other sources say that Lazarus met up with St. Paul and Barnabus and traveled with them for a bit before settling down in Cyprus.
There’s a story that Lazarus asked an old woman at a vineyard—on Cyprus again—for some grapes and she refused, so he turned the vineyard into a salt marsh which is still there today.
One story I read said that Lazarus was sullen and never smiled or laughed after his resurrection, and this was due to what he saw while his soul was in Hades for four days.
Most of the traditions agree that Lazarus spent his final years on the island of Cyprus. At the traditional site of his tomb, there was engraved on his sarcophagus: Lazarus of the four days, and the friend of Christ.
I think I’d like that on my tombstone. Maybe you too? Even better, though would be if people thought of us as friends of Christ now. Can I get an amen? Amen.