I have heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus my entire life. I have a vivid memory of being in bible class as a child. I was sitting on a rug covered with large, primary-colored circles. The rug’s backdrop for the circles that used to be white was yellowed and worn from little shoes stains and little booger stains. There I sat along with three or four others my age who cared to listen to the soft spoken woman who taught our pre-school bible class at a medium sized church in a small town on a Sunday morning. I don’t remember her name but I remember that she seemed calm and loving, a fact that I can only now, as an adult looking back, who has led a pre-school bible class before, appreciate entirely. There she sat, perched on a small chair holding a flannel graph board in her lap and moving the characters along the board as she told the story. There went Mary and Martha. There went Jesus. There went the big stone rolling away from the cave containing the stinky dead man. In the great climax of the story, Lazarus came out of the grave wrapped like a mummy as Jesus called his name. His friends began to unwrap him and let him go.
Our teacher told the story as if she were giving someone directions on how to get to the mall. She was matter of fact and to the point. Of course Jesus delayed coming to see him while he was sick. Of course he raised his friend from the dead after four days. Of course Jesus wept.
This Lazarus story had always been told me to me with Lazarus as the leading character. What strikes me now is that Lazarus is not the leading character, in fact he is barely even present in the 44-verse story that John tells is chapter 11, verses 1-44. The reader knows Lazarus has died and knows that Jesus brings him back to life. What I wonder about is all of the details between verse 1 and verse 44 from Lazarus’ perspective.
What is Lazarus experiencing in the grave?
Is he in heaven communing with God?
Is he in a holding zone somewhere between earth and heaven?
Is he annoyed at Jesus for bringing him back to earth when he had tasted heaven?
If he were to feel something from the grave, would he have felt anger for Jesus’ delay?
Is he grieving that he can no longer care for his beloved sisters?
The text doesn’t give any of these answers. In fact, Lazarus is barely present in his own story. We don’t have his perspective. He doesn’t get to move or control the narrative. He is a passive, silent, dead guy in most of the 44 verses that make up his story.
Have you ever felt as though you don’t have control of the narrative that you are living?
COVID-19 has given us this gift. This health pandemic has shattered our illusion of control. For many of us, this loss of control of our own story is the scariest and most vulnerable place in the world. It is a “grave place,” if you will.
Like Lazarus, there are times where I feel stuck. I can’t move the story along from the grave. I don’t have control over when and how to move forward with any decision or future plan. Will we travel? Will we list our home? Where will our children go to school? What about this work opportunity? The answer is, we don’t know. I don’t have the ability to set the pace for my family or manage any outcomes. And this can feel like grief, loss, and even death. The death of expectations and dreams and plans.
The loss of control over our own stories invites us to recognize what every “grave” has to teach us:
I can’t raise myself.
I can’t heal this pain.
I can’t fix this problem.
And yet, there is an invitation from Lazarus.
Jesus waited four days before he came to bring Lazarus out of the grave. He could have come at Martha’s first call. He could have come after one day or two days. But instead he came intentionally when he did. He cried with his grieving friends and then he called forth the dead man.
Sometimes the most faithful move we make while living life “in the grave” is not to make a move at all. But instead to accept, to wait, to listen, and to respond. It is in this loss of control that we may find true freedom. It is in this grave that we may hear the invitation to come forth, as Lazarus did, to new life.