Artists capture such truth when they create beautiful images and scenes that would lack detail, depth, and emotion without the contrast or play of light and dark. Consider your favorite songs. Some of the best and most meaningful lyrics use the interaction of light and dark to create a poetic and musical connection to life’s most breathtaking and heartbreaking moments. Light does not cast out darkness, but rather, it reveals to us what we can not see. It shows us what we stub our toes on or keep stumbling over.
What would happen if we approached darkness and light with such understanding? What might we learn or come to appreciate if we recognized a different kind of relationship between darkness and light? How might our thoughts be stretched, our emotions enhanced, or our souls transformed, if we looked upon darkness as a gift to light and light a gift unto darkness?
The writer of John gives us a story that invites us to do just that, the story of Lazarus. The first twelve chapters of John’s gospel are referred to as “the book of signs” and the raising of Lazarus is perched at the pinnacle of these signs. It is considered the ultimate sign or miracle and it follows six previous signs that are amazing in and of themselves. That makes the raising of Lazarus, number seven, a number that represents fulfillment or completeness.
Each “sign” or miracle is like the building blocks that make up a bigger story and then the raising of Lazarus, puts a final exclamation mark on one of the most important chapters of Jesus’ ministry; a bold, all caps, impressive font kind of exclamation mark and reveals the fullness of who Jesus is. This event reveals the totality of the authority, power, purpose, love, imagination, and creativity of God, contained in his one and only son, Jesus.
Is it any wonder then, that following this event, the plot to kill Jesus became not just another item toward the bottom of the agenda list, but rather the plot to kill Jesus became THEE agenda of the Pharisees and religious leaders? The story of Lazarus, brought together just how powerful, important, and influential Jesus’ message of hope, mercy, and love was, NOT just for a select few, but for all. It brought to light what was in the darkness that so many could not or would not see. In turn then, it set in motion the actions that led to the darkest hours to come for Jesus and his closest followers; the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. AND it also made way for the most brilliant love light to appear three days later when Jesus rose from the grave.
It is a message telling us that there are both people who are spiritually dead, in need of new life, and there are times when Jesus’ followers must walk through a metaphorical death. A time when we recognize something in us must die, or be given fully over to God. We must enter the darkness and allow the light of Jesus to show us what we cannot see. We must let go of whatever anger, regret, pain, hatred, bitterness, envy, betrayal, or disappointment that grows within us like an illness and trust that in the darkness; in that tomb-like place, there God is. Other times it might be the death of a dream, a long held idea, practice, or way of doing things. It might be our pride, ego, or refusal to be wrong that grows within us.
That process is difficult to bear and difficult to watch. It is grueling, and metaphorically speaking, like Lazarus; how long was he in the grave and what did Martha say about the smell? The longer it takes the more it stinks! It stinks to be dealing with it and probably stinks for anyone who might be in it with us.
Sitting in the dark, realizing what must symbolically die, working through issues, facing fears, making tough decisions, experiencing pain, seeking truth, holding on, letting go, and existing in everybody's favorite place to be: the unknown. Who is ready to sign up for that class?
We are reminded today that it takes time but remembering the words of Jesus, “this darkness is not fatal,” it is just hard. People of God, we can do hard things. We already have. You already have. AND it will bring glory to a God that is bigger than all of it.
What happened when poor Lazarus emerged? What were his family and community to do? What action has to happen in order for it all to matter and mean something for God’s greater purpose? If we are the ones outside the grave, outside the darkness and we see, hear, meet, come across, or are presented with someone who has been inside the grave for days, weeks, or even years, what does Jesus tell us? “Unbind him and let him go.”
It is our job to unbind and release. Lazarus didn’t come out dancing, jumping up and down, ready to lead the charge. I imagine he came out tired, still bound but alive; hesitant but wanting to know what was next; cautious or wary and needing someone to say “welcome back, here, let me help.” Jesus tells us it is our job, people of God, to unbind those who emerge from darkness and release them into the new life Jesus has given. In other words, it is our job, to meet, greet, welcome, and approach the Lazarus’ among us and say, “let me help you - lay down the grave clothes and experience the life Jesus has given you.” What does that look like here at Grace? What does that mean to you? Who are the people walking around you - us in need of someone to come along and unbind them from their pain, sorrow, disappointment; and let them loose to live into the new life Jesus brought them to? Christ has no hands but ours.
Whether you feel like a part of you is dying or that something within you must die that you might live more fully, or you are the one standing outside the grave:
Lazarus has something to say,
Jesus has life to offer, and
We have work to do.
May the Love of God guide our steps on this journey of darkness and light.
May the peace of Christ guide our hearts and minds throughout.
May the power & presence of the Holy Spirit bolster our courage to keep on keeping on.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine