I'm continuing my trend of posting about the Sunday lectionary before I go to church on Sunday. But this Sunday is the last in Lent (well... last before Holy Week. Well...) and I really don't know what I'm going to do during Holy Week. I have enjoyed this Lenten discipline because I share once a week... but this stays on my mind all week. Which is really kinda the point, isn't it?
In the meantime, I'm writing now on Friday. At home. When I'm supposed to be teaching. But I'm not because they called a snow day.
Hey #Minnesnowta ! Never fear, second winter is here!
— Tom Lutes (@lutes_thomasp) April 4, 2014
So what's a guy to do? Answer: make breakfast, catch up on TV shows with his wife and blog about church. Duh.
Coincidently, the TV show my wife and I are catching up with is Eureka. We're not actually current, but through the miracle of modern telecommunication facilitated by Netflix, we can watch it on a snow day in our jammies. And it gives me a great title for the blog post because I've come to a realization...
These past four weeks of Lent, we have had stories that are fascinating to look at for a bible study type thing. But I have not been able to make heads or tails of them when I look for a story arc from week to week. Because I'm an English teacher and that's what I do; I look for the story arc. And part of the reason that I love the Revised Common Lectionary is because there is often a story arc for any given liturgical season... So where has it been this Lent?
If you take a look at my last four posts, I have been looking for some sort of theme across the Sunday lectionary readings. But all I've been able to surmise is "these readings as weird. They're kinda... complicated." And raising his friend from the dead takes the cake for weirdness.
On the other hand, this is a thing of true glory. And we can be assured that, from a literary point of view, the suspense inherent in Jesus waiting two days to go see his friend was deliberate. But on the other hand, from a human point of view, the two days between Jesus hearing about Lazarus and actually going to see him couldn't be helped. It happened. Jesus stayed where he was for two days and Lazarus died.
It was pointed out on Pulpit Fiction that in the King James Version, when Jesus arrives and finds Lazarus dead, it simply says "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). And that's really out of character for this gospel. John is known for portraying Jesus in the most divine light of any of the four gospels. And so when Jesus shows such a basic human emotion as grief and he cries for his lost friend, it is a very human Jesus who is portrayed. He was delayed, missed his friend's passing, was struck with grief and so marked this Sunday's reading as weird among the weird. The past Sunday readings from John have all featured a very omniscient, calculated Messiah. And here he is, going in a different direction and showing human grief for a friend. Though admittedly, without this statement of emotion, we may have needed to start questioning Jesus' humanity.
So here we are, this last week of Lent and I don't know what it is that I'm supposed to be learning. And then I read the story of Lazarus. I admit, these past four weeks I have been watching Jesus do unexpected, strange things. But this story takes the cake for weird. We're not talking about living water anymore, or being born from your mother's womb a second time. Now we're talking about second life. Rising from the dead. Something that has been regarded as completely impossible. Until now, when Jesus makes it happen.
Everything else, the past four stories from the lectionary, they suddenly snap into focus when I read through this one and I realized that the unexpectedness of Jesus' actions has been the point. He has been deliberately going around doing things that people wouldn't guess that he would be doing in a million years. That is, considering that he's such a good, Jewish boy and all.
A good Jewish boy would know the story of Ezekiel, who was told by God to tell the dry bones to rise up and live. That God was able to raise the whole nation of Israel from dry bones and promised to take them home. A good Jewish boy would have known that Israel could be raised from its grave by the promises of God, but that no person was God... I start to think more and more that Jesus wasn't really such a good Jewish boy...
I said that these Lenten stories snapped into focus after I heard the story of Lazarus. I think that these stories are intended to show the length and breadth and depth of God's love for us, shown through Jesus Christ. He can resist the power of Satan and save us from our sins. He can open our eyes and make us born again. He can keep us from thirsting ever again and bring everyone together in worship. He can make us rethink was we thought we knew. And he can make the dead live again.
Thinking through all these things make me overeager for Palm Sunday, when this miraculous man rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. I'm also eager for that story because of the awesome scene from Jesus Christ Superstar that goes with it. Have you seen it? (You only need to watch, like 30 seconds... or more, if you want to...)
But even with all the miracles and and all the glory and all the majesty and human-ness, we know what's right around the corner. That triumphant and glorious entrance begins a week that goes through a tomb. And it will not be Lazarus who lies in that tomb. It will be Jesus. And when God dies, all bets are off.
But I'm getting ahead of myself...