being the resurrection
John 11.1-45 (NRSV)
Woken up by the smile of Jesus She sat through the first 4 days of a 5 day retreat, silent, emotionless, and withdrawn in a very voluble and expressive group, as though some huge weight was pressing down on her. In reading Isaiah 54 (God as a faithful husband) and Hosea 2 (God as an unrelenting lover) she had a vision in which she danced with this lovely man who, from his scars, she realised was Jesus. As they concluded their dance, Jesus leant over and smiled at her and told her that he was “wild about her”. Her own words say it all, “the love of Jesus swept over me like a gentle tide saturating my being with wonder, bewilderment, peace, certitude, and deep worship”. As if she was being brought to life again – brought out of the shadows of relational death into a place of relational light where Jesus smiled on her. Jesus is always about bring us through death into life, through the darkness into His marvellous light. (1 Peter 2.9)
[This story was borrowed from The Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning; pp. 213-215]
Not what, but Who is the resurrection? In this story of the seventh sign that John sees in Jesus’ ministry, we see a close friend of Jesus failing in health. His sisters send for Jesus to come and bring his healing and bring the threat to an end. To our minds He makes an unaccountable hesitation, saying in effect, it’s not time yet, Lazarus isn’t sick enough yet. Then equally mysteriously he changes his stance and says that Lazarus is now at death’s door and they should go immediately. When He arrives at Bethany Lazarus has already succumbed to death four days previously; and Jesus is in for a right old scalding, first from Martha, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ and then from Mary, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ But it’s Jesus reply to Martha that we must first look at. Martha, in spite of her disappointment expresses her faith in God’s purpose and Jesus’ will, to which Jesus responds that Lazarus will rise again. Martha affirms a strong faith in her brother’s ultimate resurrection on the last day, to which Jesus asserts that in fact He is the resurrection and the life, and that is a gift He will give to whoever believes in Him.
Interestingly it’s Mary in her grief who stirs up an emotional response in the Lord “He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved;” what stirred Him? Lazarus’ death? I believe it was more the grief of those, who like Him, loved this man and felt the pain of his loss. Weeping, far from being weakness is an honouring of the place this loved one had in their lives. Then they take Jesus to the tomb and He grieves openly – why? Not just in sympathy for their loss, but regret for the terrible loss of continuity that is the lot of sin-oppressed humanity, of the seemingly final place to which our rebellion has brought us and the rest of humanity. Amazingly at this point people who perceive His love begin to ask the key question; if he could open the eyes of the blind, surely He could have prevented death – especially for a dear friend. As Jesus moves to the tomb He takes a shocking risk; He asks for the stone of finality, of ultimate separation, to be moved. Martha, ever practical reminds him that a body fours day dead is going to stink. But Jesus reminds her of the opportunity to see the glory of God; so they obey and then Jesus addresses the Father aloud for the sake of those watching and then gives the most startling instruction: ‘Lazarus, come out!’ Which is precisely what Lazarus does. It may be that people were stunned at first, but can you imagine the cheering and the hilarity as people grasped what had just happened? Can you also imagine the the smile of joy on Jesus’ face, perhaps as early as His first words of command to dead Lazarus. Then the command to let Lazarus loose, a picture of our need to let go of our need to be depended on when people become well or healed after an injury or a long illness.
Jesus gives new life, overcoming the power of death, of shadow, of darkness, of threat to bring us into our destiny ‘you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ [1 Peter 2.9]
Being Resurrected now Jesus doesn’t want us to fearfully or cautiously slink around in the shadows, taking no risks, shining only a vague, dull light – afraid that we might dazzle someone if we’re too obvious – and yet He has already told us; ‘let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’ [Matthew 5.16]
To take on Jesus’ smile we need two things; first we need to spend time under His smile, quietly, alone, thoughtful, prayerful, waiting on His gracious Presence; soaking up His loving embrace. When we spend time there Jesus heals us of our absorption in ourselves – where we take ourselves too seriously…His smile allows us to distance ourselves from ourselves and see ourselves in perspective as we really are…creatures fearfully and wonderfully made a bundle of paradoxes and contradictions. [Brennan Manning again – same place]
We then, need to learn to laugh with the Lord, and bring others into the great cosmic joke, which is one way C.S.Lewis talks about the joy and wonder of salvation solely at God’s hands. We need to bring others into God’s story with our loving service, our confidence in His power over the final enemy, our willingness to share what we’ve found to be so life-forming and life-shaping. We also need to develop a new kind of patience with each other where we are glad to bear with each other through difficult times and bring one another to that place where the smile of the Lord reaches out to embrace and liberate us for all we were meant to do and be even this side of heaven.
Who are you here for? What can you bring, where can you bring them? Can we pray with you for you, for them – and bring the resurrecting smile of Jesus into their lives. You have the awesome opportunity to take your experience of resurrection now into the deathliness that darkens and shadows the lives of those who have yet to benefit from the smile of the resurrected Lord.