March 29, 2017
By Sidat Balgobin.
A reflection by the Rev. Sidat Balgobin.
Scripture: John 11:1-44 (RSV)
Now a certain man was ill, Laz′arus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Laz′arus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Laz′arus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, "Our friend Laz′arus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Laz′arus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Now when Jesus came, he found that Laz′arus[a] had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles[b] off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life;[c] he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Laz′arus, come out." The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
The story of the raising of Lazarus was the scripture for the first sermon I ever preached. It was for a friend being ordained as an Episcopal priest in Virginia. I had a history with the story in seminary when I took a course with Peter Hawkins called, "The Lively Word." In the course we all had to memorize our passages and then act them out. It was co-taught with a teacher from the Yale Drama School. It was the best course I had for giving sermons. From this course I learned to get out of my own way, my head and enter the world of the story. So it was that I memorized the whole story.
When you memorize a passage, long or short, it isn't the final presentation on Sunday morning that is the only point; it's the journey that really matters. The seemingly endless repetition can give a unique perspective of each character in the story. It even works with psalms. It is similar to interpreting a dream where you can become each person in your dream and glimpse their view and feelings. One character easy to over look is poor Lazarus himself. He didn't ask for any of this - coming back from perhaps a very loving, peaceful place. Waking up in the dark, finding himself tied up, not knowing where he was, smelling something awful, barely able to see and hearing a distant voice calling his name. Ahh, but that voice - he knew it. Perhaps it was the only thing he recognized. He didn't take the time to untie himself. He shuffled out best he could.
Perhaps it is so with us. As I write this I have no idea what the world will look like when you read this. The world seems to change daily. I apologize in advance if I am missing the main events of the day. Yet, this coming back to life may be our main story after all. We may have gotten so caught up in the events of the world that we may have become blind to our main purpose in life. Jesus teaches us that we are called to be in the world, not of the world. The world needs us - our love, our courage, our passion, our striving for justice and our intellect. Are we not also called to be free, unbound by our self rightness and fears and attachments? Do we give our time, attention and devotion to an inner call to stillness, silence and surrender? Can we allow ourselves to be amazed at a power beyond our grasp? Can we live a life that leads to our Awakening of that Way, that Truth and that Life?
It may be that if you listen deeply enough you may hear this call within you. It can easily get drowned out by the needs of the world, our family, our responsibilities and even our church. I have wrestled with this call for a very long time, certainly longer than the 25 years that have passed since I gave that charge sermon. It has been a life of discovery, painful at times, joyful too. I am still bound hand and foot, it seems to me. Yet, I hear a familiar voice, a voice of love, calling to me to come out of my dark places to be unbound. It still holds the promise for my old, dry bones to live. It hasn't given up on me and I suspect, if you listen, it is calling to you as well.
How did the rose ever open its heart
and give to this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
otherwise we all remain too frightened.
Holy One, help us to see the ways we are bound hand and foot and heart. Help us to be free in our living and loving of all Creation. Free us from our fears and ignorance and help us to heal this world. With grateful hearts, in Jesus' name. Amen
Rev. Sidat Balgobin is a retired Minister, a Christian mystic and an active Spiritual Director. He lives in Norwich, CT.
March 29, 2017