Matt Litton | January 26, 2015
I am captivated by the story of Jesus teaching in the countryside when he receives word that one of his closest friends, Lazarus, has fallen very ill.
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why, but He doesn’t seem compelled to rush home to help. A couple of lines later, He tells the twelve guys in his inner circle matter-of-factly that Lazarus has “fallen asleep.” This is such a peculiar interpretation of Lazarus’s condition because by the time Jesus finally arrives on the scene, Lazarus has been dead four days. The Gospel tells us that Lazarus was already wrapped up and buried: “laid to rest in a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it.”
My book, Holy Nomad, began while I was writing and reflecting one evening in my unfinished basement and I realized that I am lot like Lazarus. I looked around the storage space at the evidence of my materialism, my fragmented community, my grief and my practical religion and began to understand I was entombed by the trivial and insignificant, incarcerated in the dead spaces of life. When I began to look closely at my life and the lives of the people around me, it became apparent that we all reside in similar manners of confinement. We live out our days in captivity to the temporal: obsessed by our desire to possess, consumed with protecting what is ours, preoccupied with our images and our reputations. And there are the much darker cells we inhabit, such as: grief, pain, addiction, jealousy, and prejudice. We are buried alive in our self-made tombs, surrounded by the rotting evidence of our meaningless pursuits, void of joy and far from a vibrant and meaningful journey…
I am Lazarus, you are Lazarus, we are Lazarus.
In the Story, Jesus prays and explains that he is about to call his friend to emerge from the tomb, so that those standing near may believe. This reasoning implies that the whole event isn’t so much for Lazarus as it is for the many who will witness this act. He says it is “so they might believe…” – – to affirm Jesus as the source of real (eternal) life and instill a new hope for everyone who witnessed it.
If Lazarus can walk away from the finality of a tomb, still bound and wrapped in death’s attire, how can we not believe that we too can emerge from the darkness of our own cells?
Jesus calls out two words that resonate across two-thousand years: “Come forth!” We are left to imagine what the voice sounded like to Lazarus, through the thick stone of his cell. We only know that Lazarus followed the voice of Jesus, the Holy Nomad, into a new life, a new birth, a fresh start.
So they might believe.
This freedom was going to be offered to everyone.
Jesus would go on to have his last dinner, endure the heartbreak of being betrayed by one he loved and behold the disappointment of knowing another one close to him would deny him three times when the chips were down. That night in the garden, there must have been tormenting stress and anxiety over his coming execution. Not to mention the abuse from the church leaders and soldiers and the loneliness of being abandoned by all of his friends. The arrest, the spitting, the beatings, and finally the nails… it all sheds light on his hopeless last words, “Dad, where in the world are you?”
But on the other side of his tomb, we know there was Resurrection. And because of Jesus’ emergence, those words He called out to Lazarus (and to you and me); “Come forth!” take on ever-lasting significance. The graves, the tombs, the cells, the unfinished basements, the dead places in our lives all come up empty.
Our faith is more than a train ticket to heaven – it is our new beginning. An act of ridiculous sacrifice is made so the very same words spoken to Lazarus could go viral across the oceans of eternity: not just for one man, but to all who ever follow the call to “Come forth!”
The things that imprison you and me: addictions, obsessions, idols (big and small), our piousness, our grief…they all come up empty. We just have to get up and take the first steps toward that voice – out of our cells, our tombs, our self-made internments and into a life Jesus calls “life to the fullest”, a nomadic way of living. This movement is the catalyst for deep and steady joy.
Our response to the call, “Come forth!” is far more than some ego-centered spirituality, it is the very essence of expressing the grace of the gospel; it is something that a world of witnesses and observers are depending on… as Jesus prayed before his call to Lazarus: “So they might believe.”