Grace and peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being.
I am the Resurrection and the LIFE.”John 11:1-48
We have heard this line many times in our lives. But I wonder if we haven’t just heard the first half of it.
And now the rest of the story
Do we make the same mistake as Martha, who knows that her brother will rise on the last day but fails to see the impact of Jesus on today, not just on a distant, future, other-worldly time?
“I know my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Which is true, but not the whole story.
And so, Jesus reminds her. “I am, right now, Resurrection and LIFE.” Life, here and now. Not just in some distant time.
John’s gospel has in its beginning chapter, these words:
We have wedded Jesus to the next life (“I am the Resurrection”), but how much have we wedded him to this life (“and the Life”)? We keep thinking the purpose of Christianity is to get us from ‘here to there,’ when the Good News is that God has come here… so there is no ‘there’ to get to – to go to.
The Word became flesh
That is the point of the first sign in John’s gospel. The wedding of Cana is a sign of the celebration of the marriage of “the Word and the flesh” that now lives among us.
The Word became flesh – married flesh, wedded flesh.
And it is a time of celebration in the here and now, and not a time of purification and trying to get from ‘here to there.’ That is why the jars of purification are changed into the wine of celebration.
And so the Word comes into our lives to change them, transform them, resurrect them… just as water is changed, transformed, resurrected into wine.
Into the tombs of our lives… into the dead ends of our lives… into the Lazarus places of our lives… the Word comes, bringing new life.
It is all so earthly and here and now. As opposed to other-worldly and in the future.
And yet we so seem to miss it.
We turn this story into either a proof text on life after death or on our need to ‘believe,’ a word which is spoken numerous times in the passage but is another blind alley we go down… along with about 99% of the commentators on this passage.
The mistaken idea of ‘belief’
So let me just speak to this mistaken idea of ‘belief’ as primary in our relationship to God, and not secondary.
If I believe I am saved by believing, then my belief is in my own belief, and not in God. If I believe I am saved by having faith, then my faith is in my faith, and not in God.
To have faith in God, or to believe in God, means that the answer to the common Christian question, “What must I do to be saved?” – the answer is: “That’s up to God.”
That’s what it means to believe in God. That’s what it means to have faith in God.
My belief is not in my own belief, and my faith is not in my own faith. My belief and faith are in God. Everything else is idolatry. Idolatry in my ability to believe. Idolatry in my own faith. With this kind of idolatry, I end up worshipping my belief. I end up worshipping my faith. Rather than the one who is Resurrection and who is Life.
So not a Disney movie
This isn’t a Walt Disney movie where, if you just believe hard enough, it will come true. Disney believes in your believing. But we are not Disneyans, we are Christians.
Jesus gives life in a situation where no one believes. No one believes Jesus is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. No one. Martha says she believes Jesus is the Messiah, but when he asks them to roll the stone away, she is the first one to object.
So, no one believes. NO ONE.
And yet, into the disbelief, Jesus comes and gives life. Jesus resurrects the unbelievers, as well as Lazarus, into a life of belief. And it is important to note that in John’s gospel, ‘belief’ in Jesus is intimately tied to ‘following’ Jesus. To ‘believe’ is to ‘follow.’
Therefore, belief cannot be primary in our relationship with God. It is secondary. It is what comes after God’s activity in our lives. Following is not a primary act, or the first act. It is always secondary. You have to have something to follow in order to follow. You have to have something to believe in, in order to believe.
To believe is to follow
So, God’s activity in our lives is not dependent on our belief. God’s activity is primary, and belief follows, and life follows.
This is why Jesus says, in his prayer after the stone is rolled back, that he does this “…so that they may believe that you sent me.” They didn’t believe beforehand.
We’re not like a dog I once had who would run outside and capture a lizard, and then bring it back in the house and drop it at my feet, and look at me as if to say, “See what I brought you! Have I now answered your question of ‘Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?’”
We don’t run out and find belief or faith, and then run back to God and say, “See, see my belief! See my faith! Am I now a good boy or a good girl?”
We don’t believe in order to be saved. We believe because we have experienced salvation, new life, resurrection, living the WAY in this one called Jesus – the Christ.
And so, Jesus resurrects us into a life of belief, here and now. Not just into something after death, but resurrected into life, here and now. A belief, here and now. A life of following, in the here and now.
And we follow him into the depths and despair of the human condition. Into the Lazarus places of our world, where we hide in our tombs… placing a stone between us and the world… shutting it out… seeing it only as a threat to our individual existence.
And it is there that we experience death.
Do we as Christians have something more to offer the world, other than a resurrection at some future date and time?
“I Am the resurrection and the life”
Is there a life to show them? A way of living to point them to? A life that enters into the darkness of others, rather than hides out from them?
It is interesting to note that in John’s gospel, it is the raising of Lazarus that leads to Jesus’ death. Not the cleansing of the moneychangers in the temple, like in the other gospels. It is Jesus’ raising of Lazarus that leads to the plot to kill Jesus.
Or in other words, Lazarus has to come out of the tomb so Jesus can go in. Jesus is raising Lazarus to life, so that he (Jesus) can experience death.
When John says at the beginning of his gospel that, “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” he could have also added, “…and died among us,” though the rest of the gospel bears this out.
Resurrection from the inside out
This is who God is. This is how the ‘Word’ lives among us. Not just rolling the stones of our tombs aside, but entering into our tombs and death itself, resurrecting us from the inside out. Calling the life that is within us to come out of its tomb. Out of our tombs of blame and hatred. Out of our tombs of individualism and isolation. Out of our tombs of fear of the other.
Do you remember playing ‘Hide and Seek’ when you were little? Do you remember when the game was over and some of the kids were still in hiding? And to let them know it was okay to come out, you would call out, “Ollie, Ollie, oxen free!” Now, I could never figure out who Ollie was and what he had to do with the game, much less his oxen. But then I looked up the origin of this phrase and it comes from the words, “All ye, All ye Outs – in Free.”
“All you outs, in free.”
All Ye Outs, In Free
That’s the gospel, isn’t it? All you outs, you’re in FREE.
Our world has entombed itself. Hiding out in fear, placing blame, seeing the other as a threat, living outside of community.
Do we have something more to offer the world, other than a resurrection at some future date and time? Is there a life to show them? A way of living to point them to?
A life that enters into the darkness and tombs of others, rather than hides out from them…
“I am, right now, Resurrection and LIFE.”
Into the tombs of our lives, Jesus enters and cries out, “All you outs, in free … Come forth and live!”
Lazarus, you and me … along with Ollie and his oxen.
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud