In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are once again outside the city (see "Outside the City"). Jesus is called to Bethany, to the tomb of his friend Lazarus who has died. He comes to bring him back to life. So in our sacred geography of Lent we come this Sunday to the place of the dead, the Tomb.
Our spiritual desert journey with Jesus continues. When Jesus receives word that Lazarus is sick, Jesus and his disciples are in the desert where John the Baptist had ministered: "beyond the Jordan [River]." (See John 10:40) Why is Jesus there? Is he revisiting the place of his Baptism?
At Easter we will renew our Baptism Promises in a solemn way. There is also a Prayer Station at our parish’s Baptism Font where this may be done.
When Jesus does return to Bethany he does not enter the town. He encounters Martha, Lazarus’ sister, and then goes to the tomb. He is in grief; the city and its attractions and distractions hold no comfort for him. Instead, sharing fully in our humanity, he confronts the emptying of emotions in grieving a loved one. He is truly in one of the involuntary deserts almost all of us must travel at some point: the desert of grief.
In the Funeral Intercessions used at Holy Faith, one petition asks: "For the family and friends of N., that they be comforted in their grief by the Lord, who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Let us pray to the Lord. R."
The description of John that "Jesus wept" (John 11:35) is perhaps one of the more moving verses of all Scripture. In this act of weeping for his friend, Jesus is in solidarity with each of us when we weep at the death of someone we love; when we weep at the grave of a loved one. I would say that those tears of Jesus are almost as precious as his blood shed for us. He was human like us, with flesh and blood like us, in all things but sin; and he also shares our weeping. His blood pleads for forgiveness of our sins; his tears assure us of his compassion.
The place of the tomb as part of the sacred geography of Lent is a concrete reminder of the reality of death. In life we are often separated from the ones we love because of work or distance. When someone we love dies, we could try to pretend that they are just away on a trip or some other denial of death. But we cannot deny the loved one’s death when we stand at their grave.
Recently I was at the interment of my Aunt’s cremated remains at the Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola (my Uncle was in the Air Force and will also be buried with her one day) At that same Columbarium are the cremated remains of my Father and Mother. As I also visited their place of burial, read their names and the dates of their birth and death, I felt the sadness of their not being here with me in this life. Yes, they are dead and here are their remains, there is no denying it.
But death is not the final word of our lives; it’s not the final chapter. Jesus has the final word and that word is "life." The Gospel reading for March 13 was from John 5 and included these words:
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live....
Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming
in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voices and will come out,
those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deeds
to the resurrection of condemnation." (vv.24-25, 28-29)
Jesus speaks of passing from death to life. We usually think of our lives as passing from life to death: we are born, we live for a time for however long, and we die. But with Jesus, as is often the case, this is turned upside down: we are dead but he brings us to life! This is called his Paschal (or Passover) Mystery. It is the passing from death to life. We who follow Christ believe we will take this passage (passing) along with him to eternal life and in a resurrection of the body like his.
But even now we are passing from death to life and this was begun in our Baptism. The full form of Baptism in the ancient church was at first full body immersion into the waters of a river, lake, or later a Baptism Font–large enough to accomplish this. Adults were at first the majority of those baptized. When they went down into the waters fully immersed, it was like going down into a grave. Coming up from the waters was like coming up out of the grave. Thus St. Paul writes to the Romans:
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection." (Romans 5:3-5)
|Lazarus rises from the Tomb|
(It almost looks like he was baptized)
Our Baptism initiates us into a lifetime of passing from death to newness of life. It immerses us in the Passover Mystery of Christ. He died and was buried and then was raised to new life. The "spiritual dying" we must do is to die to sin and selfishness so that we can pass into his new life of love. Love demands a dying to selfishness so as to love another.
This twin theme of death and life in Baptism led to the early Church to call the Baptism Font both tomb and womb! Some of those adult Baptism Fonts were even shaped like a tomb or perhaps a Cross as is the Adult Font at Holy Faith.
In this sacred geography of Lent we come to the Tomb of Lazarus and behold it is empty! We will hear that the Tomb of Jesus will be empty on Easter Sunday. Tombs bring us face to face with the reality of death. The empty Tomb reminds us that in Christ death will not hold us, but we will obey the word of Christ and come out of our places of death whatever they may be.
Just Call Me Lazarus
by Sarah Fletcher, © 2013
A people born wearing their funeral clothes,
we don't even know there's a stone. We sit in our grave,
dirty feet, dirty cave, and trace patterns into
the ground. The sweat of our brow drips in rivulets;
a salt-imbued lie of release. A taste of the sea,
of a river, a spring, of a well we're too haughty to drink.
We think we're so rich in our tatters. We think
we're so bright in the dark. We think we are kings
in our coffins and schemes like this is the best that
we are. Like there isn't a voice small inside us.
Like there isn't a breath in our lungs. Like there
isn't a world waiting just out that door if we'd
only stand up and explore. Like there isn't a man
calling out to us. Like we don't hear our name in a
prayer. Like we don't see the stone for the lid
it's become on the room we see fit to call home.
I no longer choose to abide this. I no longer want to
subside. I want to be strong and impassioned and
torn by the wind and His name and the horn. I
want to be fashioned for battle. I want to wear
armor and light. I want to sing hours and hours on
end with no ceasing in day or in night. I want to
feel roads underneath me. I want to drip words
from my tongue. I am done with the silence, the darkness,
the violence, that my evil days often had sung.
I no longer revel in drunkenness. In sculpting my
face to a norm. In starving and fighting, in lying
and hiding, in valuing how I perform. We need to
rely on the 'other'. That power found outside our own.
I need to escape, to find spirit, take shape- this
tomb is no longer my home. I will resurrect.
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