Monday, March 23, 2009

Lazarus on Easter

Here's a piece I wrote a number of years ago. In this Easter season, it seems appropriate to offer it for your consideration...


The physicians say I haven't long to live. What matter is that to me? I, of all men, should not fear death, for I have met its Master.

The first time I saw him, Mary came dragging him in by the hand, demanding that Martha get him something to eat. I assumed he was the latest of her infatuations; she was forever falling in love with men who had the smell of exotic places in their clothing. It soon became apparent he did not fit that mold—his speech betrayed his Galilean upbringing, his hands bore the hard calluses of a tradesman.

I was drawn to him as a calf is drawn to its mother's side. I asked him where his home was, and he smiled wistfully—or was it painfully?—and said he had none to speak of. Despite his apparent poverty, I had an obscure sense I was in the presence of a great teacher, perhaps even a prophet. How little I knew.

He seemed to enjoy that visit with us, so I invited him to come again to Bethany. He came often, the next year or two. We all were eager for his return visits, but I think Mary was most so. She seemed to need his words, to long for conversation with him and his blessing. I saw my wayward sister transformed by this man. I had despaired of ever curing her of her profligate ways, and nearly resigned myself to seeing her die one day in the stone pit.
When she came to know Jesus of Nazareth, she became reflective. She learned to seek more than gratification of the flesh, to thirst for a higher good than earthly happiness. She loved much because she had been forgiven much. For this, if for no other reason, he won my appreciation.

But there was more. He was a man of wholeness, within and without. He is the only man I ever knew whose words and actions were the same. Indeed, the one gave strength and meaning to the other.

After I met the Nazarene I began to notice things about myself—a peevishness when my generosity went unnoticed; a resentment for the lack of appreciation I felt was due from my sisters. When he would come into the house, hot and dusty and blinking from the sunlight, I might offer him a cool drink of a special wine I had saved for the occasion.
His smile would be quick and honest, his face grateful as he quenched his road-thirst. I would wait, hoping to receive a
compliment on the wine, an inquiry on its origin, some praise for my thoughtfulness. But no—just a smile of thanks, and the uncomplicated enjoyment of slaking his thirst. And sometimes a tiny flicker of a smile from the corner of his eye—as though he knew, understood, forgave, and dismissed my petulance—while never diminishing his enjoyment of the cup.
He made me a friend… and I loved him.

When I became ill that time, my sisters wanted to send for him immediately. I told them not to worry—it was not the first time I had gotten sick and recovered. Perhaps they sensed what I did not. They told me later that I languished in a delirium for three days. Each day, one of them waited by the road, anxiously hoping for his appearance in the distance. But he never came.

All I can tell of the time between time is that I slept. A darkness beyond darkness enfolded me, and I slept. And then a voice was calling to me, a call I could not refuse. A fire kindled in my chest, slowly grew in intensity, spread to my fingers and toes, quickening my limbs and banishing the tentacles of cold that bound me. I saw a bright light and a familiar form silhouetted in its glow. The voice pierced the clinging mist about my head, penetrated my brain, infused my body with imperative strength.

I awoke in a hole in the side of a hill. A foul stench besmirched the air. I realized later that I must have been smelling my own death. I tottered out of the tomb, staggering under the weight of the bandages and the spices. As I limped blinking into the sunlight, a great shout went up. It seemed a thousand people stood on the hillside. But I heard only one voice—his voice, the voice that awakened me from the cold sleep. With tears still wet on his cheeks, he smiled, held out his hands to me, and began to unwrap the grave clothes.

He fell out of favor with the priests in Jerusalem. Perhaps he never was in favor with them, I do not know. Later, I heard they were seeking my life, along with his. After all, I was a walking endorsement of his power! I wonder if they intended to slay everyone who had been in Bethany that day, and had seen what happened. Perhaps so.

When they crucified him, my sisters wept bitterly, but I heard the echo of his voice, calling to my entombed soul, and I kept my own counsel. How could they think death would contain him? Yet, I had no power to lift aside the heavy sorrow that draped them. I suppose I was afraid of their grief—they seemed so certain. But on the third day, when Mary rushed in with her news, I was the only one in the room who did not doubt her sanity.

I have followed the Way all these years since. How could I do anything else? How could I, to whom He had once given life, refuse Him? I am His, despite anything Caiaphas, Pilate, Caesar, or Satan himself might do. Soon I shall be reunited with Him. Again I'll hear the call that awakened me and shall awaken all mankind.
Let death come. I do not fear it. I've known death before—and I have met its Master.