The Raising of Lazarus

 

647px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-25-_-_Raising_of_Lazarus
The Raising of Lazarus – fresco by Giotto diBondone

The Raising of Lazarus
by Franz Wright
from a fragment by Rainer Maria Rilke

Evidently, this was needed
because people need
to be screamed at with proof.

But Jesus knew his friends. Before they were,
he knew them; and they knew
that he would never leave them
desolate here. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village.
And immediately he seemed
to be standing in their midst.

 Here was Martha, the dead boy’s sister.
He knew he would always find her
at his right hand, and beside her
Mary. They were all here.
Yet opening his eyes it was not so.
He was standing apart,
even the two women
slowly backing away,
as if from concern for their good name.

 Then he began to hear voices
muttering under their breath
quite distinctly; or thinking,
Lord, if you had been hereour friend might not have died.

(At that, he seemed to reach out
to touch someone’s face
with infinite gentleness,
and silently wept.) He asked them the way
to the grave. And he followed
behind them, preparing
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one.

 Merely to walk down this road
had started to feel like a test,
or a poorly prepared-for performance
with actors unsure of their lines,
or which play they were supposed to be in;
a feverish outrage rising inside him
at the glib ease with which words like “living”
and “being dead” rolled off their tongues.
And awe flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”

 “By now he must stink,”
somebody helpfully shouted.
(And it was true, the body
had been lying in the tomb
four days.) But he was far away,
too far away inside himself
to hear it, beginning
to fill with that gesture
which rose through him:
no hand this heavy
had ever been raised, no human hand
had ever reached this height
shining an instant in air, then
all at once clenching into itself
at the thought all the dead might return
from that tomb where
the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.

In the end, though, nobody stood
there at its entrance
but the young man
who had freed his right arm
and was pulling at his face,
at small strips of grave wrappings.
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done? And all
saw how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for him once more.

 

 

Come Forth!

Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our first reading from the Ezekiel seems so pertinent to our times:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land you love…

Indeed, our times do carry a funereal feeing —  a sense of loss, confinement, and death.  The way one does with sudden death, we ask ourselves what happened! We long to see the light of God’s promise breaking over the stormy horizon.

sunrise
photo by Yousef Espanioly

Our readings this Fifth Sunday of Lent are about just such transformation.  They are about passing through the valley of bereavement to new life.

In this unprecedented time, each one of us and all of us are being called forth from old graves to a new understanding of life… called from a universal blindness to a new light. Our Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus invites us to think about our own tombs, our own darknesses from which the Lord summons us to “Come forth!”

Lazarus

Our rising is not easy, because this deadly blindness is deceptive. It is like someone walking through the Louvre, staring into a mirror. It is the blindness of self-absorption despite a surrounding sea of miracles.

mirror

When we exist within such blindness, we are as good as dead. We are Lazarus lost in a tomb. We become buried in all the manifestations of such egotism: greed, denial worry, obsession, anxiety, self-righteousness, regret and their myriad companions.

These are illusions we nurture that the world exists only as we choose to see it; that we are the universal center; that all depends on our preferences; that should we fail, the world ends.

When we operate under these illusions, all life’s energy turns inward where it fizzles in a cyclonic vacuum. The world of “me” is a tomb sealed off from the world of “us”. Ultimately, it is we who bind ourselves in its sepulchral wrappings.

But Jesus calls, “Come out!” He tells us to leave the mirror in the tomb as we walk into the true light. We are called to new life together in Him. We are released now to see the world through God’s eyes.

Having known a deadly darkness, how precious the light of new life was to Lazarus! How profound his appreciation, given a renewed vision!

What would it be like for us to live our lives with this second sight? How might we love people differently, as Lazarus must have newly treasured his sisters? How might the fabricated walls between us disappear within the grace of a second understanding? How might we see creation anew, apprehend time in eternal dimensions, embrace ourselves and others as Divine children?

Caught in our mirrors, we disregard the sacred dust around us, failing to recognize it as the stuff of stars. May we turn toward the brilliant call of Jesus. “Look”, he says. “Look at what I have given you!” May we seek the Lazarus moment in every experience – even the stunning shock of pandemic.  May the grace of Jesus’s summons unbind us with resurrected joy!

Music:  Lazarus, Come Forth – The Bishops (Lyrics below)

Please see second post today for a poem I like about this story.

Heartbroken, tears falling
Martha found Jesus
She questioned why Lazarus had died.
When she had thus spoken, her doubts were then silenced.
He walked toward the body and cried.

Lazarus, come forth.
Awake like the morning.
Arise with new hope, a new life is born.
Lazarus, come forth.
From death now awaken.
For Jesus has spoken.
Death’s chains have been broken.
Lazarus, come forth.

The tomb now was empty.
Martha stopped crying.
Her brother now stood by her side.
The Pharisee’s wondered about what had happened.
How could one now live who had died?

The reason this story gives hope to so many
Is although we know we must die.
Our bodies won’t stay there
In cold and dark silence.
We’ll hear Jesus cry from on high.

Children come forth
Awake like the morning.
Arise with new hope, a new life is born.
Children come forth.
From death now awaken.
For Jesus has spoken.
Death’s chains have been broken.
Children come forth.

For Jesus has spoken.
Death’s chains have been broken.
My Children come forth.
Children come forth.
Children, come forth.

 

 

 

Flee Toward Justice

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings will challenge us in ways we might rather not hear.

In our first reading, feisty Amos lambastes the Israelites for their sumptuous lifestyle which is indifferent to the plight of those who are poor. He calls them “complacent”, “at ease” in their prosperous, privileged existence, a condition that has numbed them to the harrowing inequities from which others suffer.

In our second reading, Paul gives a final, impassioned charge to his dear protégé Timothy. He tells him not just to avoid, but to flee such complacency and the greedy materialism which feeds it. He outlines the elements of a Christian life, enjoining Timothy to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness”.


Paul gives Timothy the key to true Christian life:

Keep the commandment without stain or reproach …

…. “the commandment” being to love God above all, and love neighbor as self.


Dives
Dives and Lazarus by Bonifazio di Pitati The National Gallery – London

Our Gospel is, perhaps painfully, familiar to all of us – the story of Lazarus and Dives. It is a parable which puts the economic divide under the crystalline light of the Gospel, challenging us as to where we fit in it.

Most of us like comfort. We would rather be “haves” than “have nots”. But we struggle within our comfortable lives to discern our responsibility for others. We’re certainly not intentionally hard-hearted, “lying on ivory couches” and “drinking wine from bowls” while modern day Lazarus languishes right beside us.

We do try, in many ways, to respond to the call for charity and service. But don’t we still measure ourselves after hearing this Gospel? Don’t we still worry about any “Lazarus” unnoticed at our door?

Amos, Paul, and Jesus are charging us – just as they charged their immediate listeners – to live a life based in Biblical and Gospel justice. Justice seeks fullness of life for all the community. Jesus teaches us that “the community” is all Creation, and that how we treat the community is how we treat him.

Every day we might remind ourselves that, however hard we try, it is never enough. We must keep on peeling away any indifference or blindness we have to the injustices of our culture and times, our economic and political systems. And we too must flee them, running toward justice, righteousness, and mercy.

We must ask ourselves this hard question:

Does my “wealth”
– however large or small,
material or immaterial-
nourish the community or only consume it?

Music: Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus – Ralph Vaughn Williams’s beautiful interpretation of the folk song “Dives and Lazarus”.

If you might be interested in the original song – a great example of folk art: Sung here by Maddy Prior (Lyrics below)

as it fell out upon one day
rich Diverus he made a feast
and he invited all his friends
and gentry of the best
then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ door
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
do bestow upon the poor
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my door
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
nor bestow upon the poor

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ wall
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
or with hunger starve I shall
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my wall
no meat, no drink I’ll give to thee
but with hunger starve you shall

then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus’ gate
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
for Jesus Christ His sake
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my gate
no meat, no drink I’ll give to you
for Jesus Christ His sake

then Diverus sent out his serving men
to whip poor Lazarus away
they had no power to whip one whip
and they threw their whips away
then Diverus sent out his hungry dogs
to worry poor Lazarus away
but they had no power to bite one bite
and they licked his sores away

as it fell out upon one day
poor Lazarus sickened and died
there came two angels out of Heaven
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Lazarus
come along with me
there’s a place for you in Heaven
sitting on an angel’s knee

as it fell out all on one day
Diverus sickened and died
there came two serpents out of Hell
his soul thereto to guide
rise up, rise up brother Diverus
come along with me
there is a place for you in Hell
sitting on a serpent’s knee

Diverus lifted up his eyes
and he saw poor Lazarus blessed
a drop of water brother Lazarus
for to quench my flaming thirst
if I had as many years to live
as there are blades of grass
I would make it in my will secure
that the Devil should have no power
Hell is dark, Hell is deep
Hell is full of mice
it’s a pity that any poor sinful soul
should be barred from our saviour Christ

The Raising of Lazarus

800px-Raising-of-Lazarus
from wiki commons

Evidently, this was needed. Because people need
to be screamed at with proof.
But Jesus knew his friends. Before they were,
he knew them; and they knew
that he would never leave them
desolate here. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village.
And immediately he seemed
to be standing in their midst.
Here was Martha, the dead boy’s sister.
He knew he would always find her
at his right hand, and beside her
Mary. They were all here.
Yet opening his eyes it was not so.
He was standing apart,
even the two women
slowly backing away,
as if from concern for their good name.

Then he began to hear voices
muttering under their breath
quite distinctly; or thinking,
Lord, if you had been here
our friend might not have died
.
(At that, he seemed to reach out
to touch someone’s face
with infinite gentleness,
and silently wept.) He asked them the way
to the grave. And he followed
behind them, preparing
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one. 

Merely to walk down this road
had started to feel like a test,
or a poorly prepared-for performance
with actors unsure of their lines,
or which play they were supposed to be in;
a feverish outrage rising inside him
at the glib ease with which words like “living”
and “being dead” rolled off their tongues.
And awe flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”

“By now he must stink,”
somebody helpfully shouted.
(And it was true, the body
had been lying in the tomb
four days.) But he was far away,
too far away inside himself
to hear it, beginning
to fill with that gesture
which rose through him:
no hand this heavy
had ever been raised, no human hand
had ever reached this height
shining an instant in air, then
all at once clenching into itself
at the thought all the dead might return
from that tomb where
the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.

In the end, though, nobody stood
there at its entrance
but the young man
who had freed his right arm
and was pulling at his face,
at small strips of grave wrappings.
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done? And all
saw how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for him once more.

~ by Franz Wright from a fragment by Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Music: Franz Schubert – The Raising of Lazarus ( For more info on music, click here )

Come Forth from the Darkness

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings make it clear that, now, no one in Jerusalem is indifferent about Jesus.

Lazarus come forth

The raising of Lazarus from the dead has pretty much sealed the deal for Jesus. Imagine what that scene must have been like! Picture yourself at the cemetery, laying your Easter palm crosses, and suddenly your beloved rises from the dead!

The Gospel offers an unbelievably stoical comment: 

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done
began to believe in him.

Are you kidding me? You bet I’d believe in someone with that kind of power!

So what held the others back from believing? What holds us back from giving it all to God?

Fear?
Jealousy?
Loss of control?
A shallow heart?
A dulled spirit?

In our first reading, God once again promises:

I will deliver them from all their sins of faithlessness,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.

Just as Christ delivered Lazarus from the grave, and Mary and Martha from their mourning, may we be delivered from anything that binds us from the fullness of life in God.

(I will send a powerful poem along later today. I think it is worth taking time with.)

Music: Lazarus, Come Forth – The Bishops (Lyrics below)

Lazarus, Come Forth

Heartbroken, tears fallin’
Martha found Jesus
She questioned why Lazarus had died.
When she had thus spoken
Her doubts were then silenced
He walked toward the body and cried.

(Chorus)
Lazarus, come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.

Lazarus, come forth,
From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Lazarus, come forth.

The tomb now was empty,
Martha stopped crying
Her brother now stood by her side.
The Pharisees wondered
About what had happened,
How could one now live who had died.

The reason this story
Gives hope to so many
Is although we know we must die,
Our bodies won’t stay there
In cold and dark silence
We’ll hear Jesus cry from on high.

Children come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.
Children, come forth,

From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Children, come forth.

For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
My children, come forth.