2014 5 April

Lenten Study 5 – Lazarus

Posted in Steinbach United


by Moderator Gary Paterson

(Download this video here.)

A Lenten journey of transformation, “Turn Around Take Off!” through wilderness into rebirth, the waters of life, seeing the real world for the very first time… and now, walking out of the cave of death, whatever it is that denies abundant living, rebirth again… “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:1-45)

And perhaps this is the moment to substitute your name in place of Lazarus’, or perhaps the name of your congregation… and ask yourself, what would that look like, how would that happen?

Several years ago I was leading a “spirituality workshop” for people living with HIV/AIDS, and I used this story of Lazarus as an opportunity for us to talk about death and new life. The first half of the gospel story was told, the part that ended with Lazarus dead in the cave. We paused in the reading and then spread out a sheet on the floor, which became the “binding cloth” that was to be wrapped around the corpse of Lazarus. On the sheet we began to write down all the forces, powers, and dynamics that bound us, that bring death. People leapt to the task and soon the sheet was covered – prejudice, homophobia, fear, virus and sickness, discrimination, addiction, poverty, no self-worth, sexism, isolation, despair – the list went on and on, an overwhelming combination of inner and outer forces, the brokenness within and the social structures that oppressed and crushed us. We stopped, and in stunned silence looked at our naming of all the death-dealing forces that surrounded us; and then we talked….

This might be a moment to make your own list – what brings death to you? what forces are pressing down on you? and what are the demons within that suck life from your days?

But the exercise didn’t stop here; the story continued.

This binding sheet was wrapped around my co-leader; he was bound; and placed in the middle of our circle. Dead; and the darkness of the cave was overpowering.

But then Jesus, the embodiment of resurrection and life, demanded that the rock be rolled away; he prayed to the God of liberation and grace; and then shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”

At which point, the “sheet-bound corpse” in the middle of the circle began to stir, unfolded, ripped the sheet in half, crying out, “In the power of the Spirit, I receive and claim my freedom,” and then invited each member of the group to rip a strip off the sheet, while shouting in the same way, “In the power of the Spirit, I receive and claim my freedom!”

As you can tell, it is a moment seared upon my memory, one that has continued to inspire me – and also one that has sparked questions, as I sit with the various characters in this story.

Lazarus, of course – the times when I have felt life draining out of me in the face of injustice, pain, subtle (or not so) oppression; or when I find my spirit shrinking when faced by the clamour of my internal demons. As a gay person I have heard Jesus’ invitation, “Gary, come out!” as a clarion call to liberation.

It’s left me pondering the gift of life that Jesus brings – how is it made real? Sometimes it comes as forgiveness and acceptance; sometimes as a wake-up call and energy. I remember times when Jesus has been a channel through whom the grace of God flows, a door into Spirit power. Sometimes it comes as love. And I’ve wondered how I might make myself more available, more open to the invitation, the command; how I might hear and act in response.

I also find myself thinking about Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, recognizing the grief that comes to all of us, when tears and broken hearts are what we offer in the face of death, loss, the inevitable endings and crucifixions. I think about the grief in our church, as many congregations contemplate closing their doors, even as they trust that God is indeed calling us, the church, into new life. “__________ United Church, come out!” What would that look like, how it might happen, how we might hear the invitation?

How might your congregation, or the United Church, hear and believe? Must we break free from the binding cloths of “old ways” that no longer bring life? Are there times when the church building has become a cave out of which we must walk? I worry that we have lost faith in resurrection, in the power of God to call us into new life – not just calling us, but actually empowering us to walk out of the old and into abundant living.

I wonder about the new Lazarus – what must he have felt like as he walked into the light of a new day, the binding cloths dropping behind him, the crowd of family, friends and onlookers, hardly able to believe their eyes, not sure how to respond to this reborn Lazarus? I’ve learned a lot from friends in 12-step programs, who have shared what it is like to hit bottom, to know death, and then to discover the possibilities of new life. They know something about grace.

I wonder if Lazarus found it impossible to be silent about his transformation – did he become a witness, dare I say it… an evangelist… like the blind man of last week’s story, or the Samaritan woman the week before? There’s something about the encounter with Jesus Christ, with the God of Life, and the experience of rebirth, of new life. It’s hard to keep quiet about it. “I once was blind, but now I see; I once was entombed, but now I’m free; I once was dead but now I’m alive.” I wonder how many of us have experienced such moments, when we have been filled with the power of new life – of, well, resurrection. When was the last time you heard such a story… or told such a story?

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.