I went looking for crocuses the other morning, and I found them, thank God. They were right where they are every spring — perhaps a little later this year than some — but there they were. Although they were looking a little peaked, I have to say — I ‘m thinking this hard winter has been tough on them, too.
I went looking for crocuses because I had had enough of cold and darkness and death.
For you see this week I officiated at the funeral of a 47 year old. He went into the hospital with what he thought was a bad cold or flu. He leaves behind a five year old little girl who adored him.
A few nights ago I got the call telling me that the 30 year old son of a member had died in his sleep.
And late in the week, I spent time with a woman who is, coincidentally, just my age, who spoke to me of her fear of living and dying both. I can’t say as I much blame her. She had a heart attack this week — culminating a lifetime of health issues.
I went looking for crocuses this week and thank God I found them. Yes, because I have had enough of a winter that won’t let go. And more than that, because I am weary of thinking about suffering and death. Even so, my imagination is small, don’t you think? For as I walked and looked for crocuses a few days back, I was also carrying the story of the raising of Lazarus with me. Might my yearning for signs of hope be too easily satisfied?
And yet, as I read the story again, I really don’t think Martha and Mary expected Jesus to do what he did, even though Martha asserts that anything is possible with Jesus. Even so, notice that nowhere do they directly ask Jesus to bring life to this dead place. At least not in the way that he did. Their heartbreak, in fact, had already begun to settle in. They appeared to have no real expectation that he would suspend their grief. They only expressed the certainty that if he had just gotten there sooner, things would not have turned out as they did. Maybe they, too, were only looking for crocuses. Even late, peaked ones. How surprised they must have been to hear Jesus call for their brother to ‘Come out!” How stunned they must have been to hear that same command echoing in their own hearts to leave their grief behind!
For it is so, it seems to me, that the shout to Lazarus to “Come out!” was a shout meant not just for one, but for all. It was a shout meant to alert the whole wide world that things were about to change. And yes, that shout is not meant only for one dear friend of Jesus who had been too long dead to reasonably have been able to respond to his command. It is also meant for all of us — all of us friends of Jesus to “come out!” Come out of your losses, your fears, your despairs, your unsettled griefs. Come out of your too long winters and your weeks full of too much suffering. Come out now. For we are not done with this world yet, Jesus seems to be saying, and it surely is not done with us. Come out and live. And don’t settle for crocuses. Don’t settle for pale signs of spring. Indeed, don’t even settle for spring itself for it is only a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.
For that matter, like those sought after crocuses on my morning walk, even the raising of Lazarus is just a pale foreshadowing of what will one day be. In fact, I’m pretty certain that even after his miraculous exit from the tomb, that his body and spirit still bore all the signs of the wear and tear this life on earth can bring. For I imagine it is so that even after walking out of the tomb, that his left knee still caught sometimes when he tried to climb stairs. Or that even having had his grave clothes removed so he could move freely, it is altogether likely that he could still could not move with the speed and energy he had as a youth. And having come back from a place of utter silence — perhaps experienced as a kind of peace? — Lazarus was thrust back into a life where such peace was not always experienced. For one thing, you and I know well the stories of how his sisters apparently did not always see eye to eye, not to mention all those other ways in which peace is not yet realized in this life. Indeed, as a seminary professor so bluntly reminded a classroom of budding pastors long ago, all those whom Jesus healed would one day die. Even Lazarus.
The raising of Lazarus was a gift to those gathered in their grief that day so long ago. The every day and extraordinary miracles you and I experience all the time are gifts as well. But they only point us to that last day when we never again wonder at when winter will finally let go: When never again will we stand at the gravesides of those too young, or struggle with our own fears about living and dying. They give us just a taste of that last day when along with Martha and Mary and Lazarus, we will know the full meaning of Jesus’ promise, “I am the resurrection and the life.’
- What is Jesus’ call to ‘come out’ calling you out of today? What loss or fear or despair or grief are you called to leave behind in this life now?
- What ‘pale signs of spring’ point beyond themselves to the fulfillment of the promise in this Gospel? What small (or large) miracles speak the truth to you that along with Lazarus and along with Jesus, death does not have the last word?