By this evening, fall shall have arrived. Another summer of work has melted into a fall of preparation; putting things away, planting greens for late fall, winter, and early spring, cutting the last of the hay. This is the time nature begins to turn to slumber, rest, and ultimately, renewal.
We take so many things for granted. We seldom think of what it takes to live, the cycle of life and death that is constantly at work around us. Every seed planted dies in the ground, and in dying mysteriously brings out life; the decay of an animal brings about a rich hummus that will once again nourish the earth. It’s as though we are all part of a great dance, orchestrated by higher powers, spirits unseen, taking our place in the circle of life. Dust to dust…
The minister spoke on Lazarus. It was a great sermon, a thing of beauty actually. He brought out things in the gospel account I’d never considered. How Jesus differed in his response to Martha and then to Mary; to Martha he gave an acclimation (“I am the resurrection and the life…”), to Mary he gave his tears (“Jesus wept.”) To each he gave what was needed at the moment.
Then he went on to say how Jesus was angry at death, and called Lazarus out from beyond the grave and restored him to life. And yes, that is what Jesus did. But I’m not sure that his anger was simply at the act of dying.
Death is part of the created order. Fertility is based upon death and decay in order to bring about new life. Unless we see ourselves as somehow apart from this process, we must reckon our place within it. The fact that we continue to live means that something in nature must die, be it animal or plant. Death is not the enemy of life; sterility is. While I want the doctor to use sterile tools to perform whatever procedure he must perform, I do not want my food to be sterile and I certainly do not want my animals to be. Sterility is rather final all around.
Jesus deep emotion, anger if you’d like, at the graveside of Lazarus was at the separation that human death causes. When God judged our first parents in the garden after they disobeyed, death was not immediate, but separation from God was. And physical death for humans has provided the exclamation point to separation ever since.
So this is how I see it. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead as a sign of fellowship restored. Lazarus is in sheol (the holding place for the dead O.T.) and calls him back to life, back to Him. When Jesus dies on the cross, he descends to sheol (hell) and winnows hell, leading the faithful captives free and ushering them into the presence of God – separation reversed, fellowship restored.
On this side of the cross, we have hope of eternal life, but we also have fellowship restored. In the great Eucharistic feast, we gather with those living on either side of the altar – those who’ve died and yet live in the presence of God, and those of us not yet “perfected,” working out our salvation and being made fit for heaven in the process.
The sun is up now. Time to put these musings away and go into the day.