If I should pass the tomb of Jonah I would stop there and sit for awhile; Because I was swallowed one time deep in the dark And came out alive after all.
These opening words from Carl Sandburg’s “Losers” resonate deeply with me. These words, like those of John’s Gospel today remind us that there is light beyond darkness, there is hope beyond despair, there is life after death.
Many of us have had, or will have, times when the dark seems to swallow us whole. Many, if not most here today have their own resurrection story to tell. Each of us, in our own way, are Lazarus, and today’s Gospel story should inspire us to tell that story. Afterall, we are resurrection people, and the church should be a place where we can share opening and honestly about our pain, our struggle, our darkness. Church should be a place where we can stumble out of our tomb and lay it all down and know that we are held in love.
I spent 25 years of my adult life buried in the darkness of alcoholism and drug addiction. From the age of eighteen until I was forty-three alcohol and drugs ruled my life. In the beginning I was able to fool everyone just enough to get by. But as the disease progressed, it became harder and harder to keep my life together. Eventually, I was in and out of jails, and in the end I was homeless and stumbling around the streets of North Hollywood with a pocketful of cigarette butts and stealing booze and food out of supermarkets. Somehow, I was able to cling to what seemed a flimsy reed of hope and allow God to rescue me from the depths of oblivion. By the grace of God and help from those in the fellowship of recovery, I have now been clean and sober in alcoholics anonymous one day at a time for twenty-five years, and my recovery has revolutionized my outlook on life and catapulted me into a spiritual dimension that I never dreamed possible.
I think people who have found their way to recovery from the darkness of addiction have an experimental understanding of resurrection, because they, like Lazarus, have walked out of the darkness of death into the sunlight of the Spirit. And I have yet to meet one person who did it alone.
We have all had our own cross to bear, our own dark night of the soul experience. We all have a story to tell, and there are others that need to hear it. The church should be a place where we can share openly about our struggles and know that we will be held not in judgement but in love. We support one another and we heal together. Which brings me to the point of this reflection.
The one phrase that stood out for me in today’s Gospel story was at the very end after Lazarus walked out of the tomb very much alive, when Jesus said to those gathered: “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus was once again inviting us to participate in the Agency of God. Like the feeding of the five thousand when he directed the disciples to feed the people and finish the miracle. Like the wedding day Cana when he turned the water into wine, then directed others to serve the miracle. And like the morning when appeared on the beach and asked the disciples to bring some fish they had caught so he could cook them breakfast.
Today Jesus encouraged those around Lazarus to remove the wrappings of death, to unbind him and set him free. The message is clear. God wants us to help each other. God wants us to participate in the Divine work of healing and salvation. We are in this together. None of us can do it alone.
But we also must be ready to change. Lazarus had been dead for four days, meaning that he was like really, really dead. The same is true for us. We need to be under no illusion that the false self is life-giving, and in fact, know that it is killing us.
So, what are the wrappings of death that we need removed from our life, as individuals, as a society, and as a church? Is it addiction, anger, judgement, guilt, shame, selfishness, ego? What is it that keeps you from bathing fully in the sunlight of the Spirit of God? How can we help free ourselves and others from the death wraps of the false self and live fully into the True Self, the resurrected self?
We are the church. A church of hope. A church of truth. A church of healing. A church of resurrection. A church of freedom. The world needs us now. We need us now. Let’s be that church.