My Resurrection?

By The Rev. Anne Michele Turner

Jesus’s resurrection is easier to think about than my own.

I am completely down with the idea of Easter morning.  I will gladly preach about Jesus’s triumph over death.  In fact, I look forward to doing so in two weeks.  I can celebrate Christus Victor, as the tradition names him, the cosmic Jesus who did battle with the powers of darkness.  I will argue for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, for the reality of those hand and foot wounds.  I can sign on to all of that.

My resurrection?  That’s another story.  One that, conveniently, I don’t have to think about as much.  When I talk about the defeat of capital D-death, I conveniently gloss over any more personal deaths, be they physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual.   They are too close to home to look at directly.  I exclude them.   I’d rather not ask if they, too, can be defeated.  I’d rather not ask if resurrection applies to me, too.

Perhaps you do this, too.  A lot of us have this odd way of excluding the personal from major categories of faith.  We are fine with the general truth of doctrine.  But the personal truth is a little more challenging.  Believing that resurrection is true is one thing. Believing it is true for me?

The lectionary has been having us think about outsiders during Lent—about the ways our communities get fractured by privilege, by shame, by scapegoating.  And in this final week of Lent, it takes what it perhaps the most emotionally challenging turn of all: it asks us to look inside our own hearts for those places, those aspects of self which seem beyond saving.   It asks us to go with Lazarus into the tomb and look at all the stuff that we think is dead.  And then it asks us whether, in fact, Jesus might want to resurrect that, too.

This is a huge gospel, but I want to think mostly about that end part—after the waiting and the going, after the confession of Martha, after the weeping of Mary—about that part when we finally come to the tomb.  There is every sign there that death is real and that death is it.  There is this big huge tomb, and a stone is rolled against it, because in that time and place the only real way to protect a dead body from animals was a cave and a rock.  And just in case we think maybe there’s some mistake—because in that time and place, people were sometimes buried mistakenly, and so the funeral rituals incorporated three days of double-checking—the gospel makes it clear that this has been four days, past the margin of error.   It smells.  Lazarus is not mostly dead.  Lazarus is all the way dead.

It seems important to the gospel writer that we know that, because he wants to make clear that Jesus is not offering some beefed up healing, and he’s not offering some parlor trick.  Jesus is coming to the worst, stinkiest, awfulest, deadest place there is.  All the way dead.  And into that place, he speaks: Come out.  Be unbound.  Let this one go.

Jesus does not just proclaim this as a victory of his own making.  He does not even trumpet this as a declaration about Lazarus.  He says this to us.  He says this about us.  This resurrected life: this is not some exemplar that we appreciate from afar.  This is for us.

This morning, we sit here with all kinds of death.  Some of it is probably very public: the illness we know, the losses of mourning that cannot be hidden no matter how much we try.  A lot of the death we know is more inward.  In fact, the deadest places in us are often the most secret, the most banished, the most cobwebby, exilic corners of our hearts.  We leave things untouched back there because they are way too painful, and when we give up hope when push them into those places where they aren’t going to get bumped any more.  This is the tomb where we have put the disappointment that we cannot talk about, the addiction that we cannot give up, the depression that seems like it will never leave us, the memory that is too terrifying to live again, the failure that is too shameful to admit even to ourselves.  This is the graveyard of the heart.

And this is where Jesus calls.  Not to someone else, not at some point in history, not in abstraction, but in specificity.  To you, to me.  Anne, come out.  You, there, in the back, come out.  You off to the side trying not to be noticed, come out.  You who gave up long ago, you who decided that you were dead.  You are not.  Come out of your tomb.  I would roll away your stone.  This is what I do for you.

If you thought we were supposed to wait until Easter for resurrection, you’re wrong.   The lectionary gives us this story today, narratively, because it happens before the events of Holy Week.  The resurrection of Lazarus is, in fact, the final straw for the religious authorities who decide to do Jesus in.  But it’s not just narrative logic here.  Hearing this story in this Sunday, at the end of Lent, reminds me that resurrection is not a reward for a life lived well.  Resurrection comes crashing into this life, and resurrection is not a conclusion but a beginning.

Here at the end of Lent, I hope you no longer think that this is a season about being made worthy of God.  It is about begin found worthy, which is a completely different thing.  We are found worthy, through grace, to receive new life.  We don’t have to wait until the calendar tells us that the time is right, and we don’t have to look and see if we have measured up, because there is no right time, and there is no way to measure up, and appropriateness and merit are not the point, anyway.  Jesus invitation does not wait on those things.  Jesus invitation is for this moment.   The Roman Catholic priest Jean Vanier said, “the resurrection is a process that begins every morning, every night, every day.”  It begins this morning, this day, this now.

Jesus spoke to Lazarus in that other time and in that other place, but this is not a gospel for some other Christians somewhere else.  Jesus speaks to you and me still.   Come out.  Come out of that dead place.  Roll away the stone.   Take off the bandages.  Live again, and live anew.