Arise O Sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.
As a child, I had an overpowering fear of the dark. My heart would race, my breathing would quicken and I would run toward a door or the nearest source of light. A Scooby Doo night light was a trusted friend. I would do anything to assure I was not left in the dark.
This fear reached its pinnacle when I was 7. I grew up in an extremely large family. On any given weekend, I was surrounded by 30 to 40 cousins. The older, teenage cousins had a twisted sense of humor. One Saturday, I could not find my baseball. Two of the meaner ones told me it was in the old shed. I immediately stiffened with fear.
The old shed, way out in the back of field. No windows, and old wooden door. It was hot, musty and full of spiders and crawling things. I was terrified to go near. They noticed that i did not make a movement. I heard the taunts “chicken?” So, I pursed my lips, stood straight and walked directly toward the shed. Reflecting on it later, not once did I stop why and how it would be in there - and how did they know.
I walked slowly toward it, eyeing this horrible structure. I did not want to go in. Chicken. I stopped at the old door, turned the knob, and it creaked as it opened. opened the door and peered in. I could see outlines of old furniture, covered with sheets, and farm tools. I took a deep breath and took a small step into the shed.
Just then, I felt two large hands push me on my back. I was hurtled into the shed by the force of their shove. My head hit an old cabinet and then I heard the door slam shut and the door latch lock. It was total darkness, and i let out a horrific shriek. I was yelling, banging on the door. All I could hear were my cousins laughing as they walked away.
I sat there in my terror. I imagined movements in the dark and was sure bugs were crawling on me. My head was bleeding. I was scared, angry and could not catch my breath. No one seemed to hear me or care. I felt trapped in the dark with no way out and the world seen to go on it’s way. I felt alone and abandoned.
In reading our Gospel, I thought of that dark shed and Lazarus. Specifically, his time before his death, and how he felt. No one ever seems to remark on what he was going through. Of course, theologians speak of Jesus and his mission, his compassion, his prayers and the miracle. Others speak of Martha and Mary and their mourning. Even the crowd is spoken about.
Yet, Lazarus, is left to being described as a bandaged figure who walks like a mummy into the light. So let’s imagine Lazarus, full of life, going to work, laughing with his sisters, going through the normal routine and then everything changes. In an instance, his world is turned upside down. From everyday to darkness, sad to painful. Joy into grief. He thinks, how can this happen to me. Sitting in the room, simply hoping.
Maybe crying and saying “I am scared. Yet he knows that his friend, the one who loves him, will come. He needs Jesus. And then nothing. His sisters ask and Jesus does not respond. He prays and seemingly no answer. Jesus seems to ignore the one he loves, in fact he goes the other way.
Lazarus is hurt. The abandonment, anger and fear. The darkness of despair probably envelops him before the darkness of the tomb. The world goes by and no one is paying attention. Imagine his cries “Jesus, where are you. I need YOU!” In many ways, we are Lazarus. His story is not unlike ours. Because each one of us has suffered in some way. Some, may be suffering now.
We have a happy marriage or relationship and then those words. “I do not love you anymore.” Illness stops us in mid stride, and you wonder is you will ever be the same. Your job is being realigned and you are not part of the alignment. You cannot lose that weight and you hate yourself. All you do at home is fight with your parents, spouse, children. Constant conflict. I can have just one drink. Or death has taken away the light from you.
Life is a dark place and it is terrifying. Let’s be honest for all our strength, our posturing, even with strong faith. It is difficult, no, it is almost impossible to willing walk into sorrow and suffering. No one wants to encounter the darkness of life. I do not care if you are a Christian, agnostic, atheists, or a seeker; abandonment and darkness is scary. No one wants to be alone. We do not want to feel hopeless, or even die. We want the light.
And Lazarus is no different. So on those final days. Lazarus waits and waits. Seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days. Eventually there is no hope left. The door of his life is shut and he is bound with the wrappings of despair. He is dead to the world and Jesus knows it. This is the only place in the Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples that someone is dead.
Yet Jesus knows and he moves toward Lazarus through the distance He senses, he understands. Because when a relationship is bound in love. There is no distance. And when the relationship is bound by divine love, no place or darkness is beyond God’s reach. Jesus walks, prays, comforts, cries. He says the name Lazarus - which means God is my help. And God is our help.
Jesus looks toward the tomb and says Lazarus, “come out.” Lazarus, wrapped in despair, his life seemingly ended, enveloped in total darkness. All hope, all faith is buried with him. Then his soul hears something. He cannot move because hopelessness is holding him back.
He hears that voice again. Is it a dream wedged between the constant nightmares. He hears in clearly “everything will be ok. I am here.” The one tiny speck of hope, begins to grow. The voice gets louder and hope becomes larger. The door of the tomb slowly opens and little by little, light fills the darkness.
He struggles to get up, attempting some semblance of his former bearing, yet he knows that life will never be the same. Jesus calls again - “Come out of the darkness and into the light my child.” The first thing his out of focus eyes see is the love of Christ. Despite the past and the darkness, Lazarus understand that everything will somehow be ok. Like a buried seed in the ground, it was dark, with the hopeful expectation of the light.
That is our hope, that is our faith. That is the love of the one we follow. Despite the tomb and the despairing darkness of life. Jesus is always near. These are not archaic stories that happened long ago. They are true now. The Lord did not only act then, God is acting now. The love of God is real, day in and day out. In our darkness, in our tombs, he is near.
There is a knowing that somehow that in the darkness there will be an inextinguishable light, and indescribable love. Always there near, searching for you. That day, locked in a shed, I knew deep down that my grandmother would look for me. Her love would not let me be gone for long. I must of fallen asleep and then I heard her voice.
I banged on the door and shouted and by doing so, I noticed the light. Light seeping through the cracks of the door. It was probably there all along, yet I did not see it in my fear. She unlocked the door and I fell into hers arms, and cried and cried. She held me and eventually the tears turned into laughter. I imagine Lazarus fell into the arms of Jesus, and he cried and cried and the tears eventually turned into laughter. He knew that Jesus would be there.
Eugene O’Neill wrote a play about Lazarus after the miracle. In the play, a crowd has gathered at Lazarus’ house to speak to him. Lazarus emerged from the tomb and "began to laugh softly like a man in love with God? Then Lazarus, in serene acceptance, uttered his first word, "Yes!" He affirmed all he saw around him in a way he never had before.
They began to ask questions, Lazarus, what was it like to die? What did you see? What did you experience?" Once again, Lazarus began to laugh the laughter of pure joy. Then he said, "There is only life. There is only laughter, the laughter of God. It soars to the heights; it resounds to the depths. There is no death, really. “
We were born of the laughter of God and we move toward the laughter of God. There is only life. "Therefore, we must learn to live, to celebrate, to love, to accept, to affirm. We must learn to participate in God’s love of life. We are never left alone.
With Christ, it is never the end of the story. In our darkest time or tomb never give up hope because there will always be a voice calling you saying. “I am here, Come out into the light. Come to me. Come. Everything will be alright.”
In your darkest time, listen because he is calling you. Sense, because he is near. Reach out your arms, because you will fall into his arms. Yes. Because he is always there. The light in the darkness, turning our despair into joy, and our pain into laughter.