The women have been buried in the house
for four days. It isn’t a big place, and its full of
people mourning their brother.
And maybe that’s alright, because, if it wasn’t
they would be alone with corner where he laid down,
where they wrestled against the fever to keep him. The doorway
would be the last place he was able to sit up.
Everything. Every bowl, every blanket, fresh with the touch
of his desperate aliveness, would tell that story.
And then the teacher comes back to them. He received the message
they sent about Lazarus and came back
after the delay, and the whole conversation with his disciples about
how the sickness would not lead to death,
how what would happen would be for the glory of God. And then,
that he was not asleep but actually was dead, and
that Jesus was going to wake him up.
But of course Martha doesn’t know any of that
when she leaves the house to go and meet him on the road.
She’s walking out there to be the symbol of incomplete faith;
she’s going to be the one who narrates our collision with the impossible.
She speaks first, and she tells Jesus the truth:
if he had come when they called, Lazarus would be alive,
and not in the cave,
her fingers wouldn’t remember the weight of his body, winding him in cloth.
Jesus chose in his power, and it was within his power to act now—
to do what exactly, she can’t seem to hope into words.
And that whether he did or he didn’t act now, he was the Messiah,
the son of God, the one coming into the world.
But when Jesus goes to the tomb,
and tells them to remove the stone from it, Martha says “no.”
It’s been four days, she says.
The writer has told us that already—
that when Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days—
so John seems to have recognized four as a number of particular heartache,
aware of the belief that the soul stayed around the body,
confused and hopeful to be reunited with it, for three days,
until it became unrecognizable, and it went off.
and it was truly, and finally over.
So Martha tries to stop the teacher; “Lord, already there is a stench.”
The ancient Syriac version of John adds that she cries
“why are they taking away the stone!” Let him be gone. Let us mourn.
Let us entrust him to the bosom of Abraham and the last day,
but let his grave be closed. Don’t exhume him.
Don’t cover us with the scent of his disintegration.
Jesus says, “did I not tell you that if you believed,
you would see the Glory of God?”
Well, the way John has given us the story, not exactly.
Back when Jesus first heard that Lazarus was sick,
he told his disciples that the illness will lead not to death,
but to the glory of God’s son.
But he didn’t say that to Martha. To her,
he said: “I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
Jesus came back to Bethany to make Lazarus breath and walk again,
and he’s going to do it, whether Martha believes or not.
What’s at stake isn’t the miracle of a dead man rising,
its the breath poured into the dead ones who see it.
Its the new and inextinguishable life in those who recognize
the one who makes things alive, who makes life out of death.
And inside the tomb, Lazarus is waking up.
John is so careful in how he says this:
Jesus commands it, and “the dead man came out.”
John does not say that “Lazarus” came out.
Or, that “the man who was dead, but is now alive came out.”
He says, “the dead man came out,” still covered. Still bound hand and foot.
He will not say Lazarus is alive.
He won’t say that, because he insists that the flesh of this story
is sign of a different sort of aliveness—
that the ones made alive are those who have seen,
who have seen the power of God break the world open,
resurrecting them into awake-ness to the Christ
who is the blood and breath of everything.
Who has come to awaken us.
But that does put away with death.
Jesus wept. He wept at the sight of the tomb.
He wept at the anguish of the ones he loved.
And perhaps he felt the nearness of his own death.
Felt his own tomb around his body,
and these same beloved ones weeping for him.
Last year, on this same last Sunday in Lent,
we heard what is, for John, an epilogue of sorts to this story,
when Mary lavishes the feet of Jesus with costly perfume.
Wiped them with her undone hair.
The writer insists these stories be heard together—
John begins the Lazarus story by reminding us
that it was Lazarus’s sister Mary who anointed Jesus.
And John disagrees with all the other Gospel accounts by telling us that it
happened at meal with Lazarus, whom Jesus raised.
The raising and the anointing go together. Mary is, after all,
preparing another body for burial,
doing for Jesus what she had done for her brother.
And the house, it says “was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
The cave was filled with the scent of death.
The house filled with the fragrance of perfume. Saturated to overflowing.
Those lines somehow receive and answer one another.
And they mark the end of words.
The edge of all words, and we can only come, and look there.
Open ourselves to the presence of all our tombs,
overwhelming, rising up into us like storm of scent.
And inside, there is only Him,
holding out life.