What do you let have the last word in your life?
There are some people who are absolutely driven to get in the last word. I had a former classmate in High School and College who was like that. He became a lawyer – which was probably a pretty good fit for him. Getting the last word minimally means that your idea/truth will stay in people’s memory longer. Often it means that you have won the debate, though not always. And it is interesting that our criminal justice system is set up to honor that desire to get the last word. The last person a jury hears before taking the case to the jury room is the defense council. In a country where we are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the last word is always on behalf of the defendant. The last word indeed holds a position of prime importance.
Today’s gospel is all about understanding WHAT the last word about our lives as humans is really all about. In the third and final of these long stories from John, we see a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate word, his last word about our fates as humans. John sets up the story well. Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus’ sickness is not to end in death… but so that the GLORY of God will be revealed. So we know that the last word will somehow be connected to God’s glory.
Martha – though she can scarcely imagine how – hints at it. “If you had been here. But EVEN NOW Lord…” Even now, I am sure that you can have the last word.
Mary – repeats that theme, that things could have been different if Jesus would have had the last word: “If you would have been here…”
And then we hear this wonderful word, – a precursor, really, to the last word: in Greek – “embrimasthai” – meaning to be moved deeply with a degree of anger. Such an emotion is usually associated with a snort or some physical gesture to emphasize the anger. Here it has the meaning of Jesus being moved to the pit of his being and it signifies indignation, not grief. The two times it is used in this passage are in response to ‘death’. The first time is in the presence of the mourners – ‘Mary and those weeping’; John reports that he becomes perturbed and deeply troubled. The second time is as he approaches the tomb itself – Jesus, perturbed again, approaches the tomb.
Think about that. The initial reaction of Jesus in the face of death is anger. It is to be disturbed. It is to snort in indignation. This is not right. This grief, this sorrow, this lack of life, this tomb – it is not how it should be. And the Lord of LIFE reacts with the passion of God himself – anger, struggle, indignation. Death is not meant to have the last word. Sorrow, though as real as the tears that he himself sheds over Lazarus’ death, is not the goal of creation. And from the depth of his spirit comes a series of commands – “Take away the stone.” “Lazarus, come out.” “Untie him and let him go.” That is what moves in the heart of a savior – the utter conviction that death has no place among the living, that death will never be the last word about us as humans.
LAZARUS COME FORTH… Ahh.. there is the last word to all that is hopelessly death in us. And that is what that little detail is about – what being in the tomb 4 days means. In days before our advanced medicine, people could be in a deep, deep coma and be thought dead but come back to life before the end of 3 days. No one comes back after three days in that time. So that is why Jesus ‘waits’ before he comes to Bethany – because being in the tomb 4 days is now beyond ‘coming back to life’. Jesus wants us to know that even in the face of all that is “hopelessly death” in us – that is still NOT the last word. I am the resurrection and the life… That is the last word that you need to trust in and surrender to.
And so what remains “entombed” in your world? Perhaps it is a habit of gossip that doesn’t ever seem to go away despite your best efforts. Maybe it is that struggle with patience in dealing with a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s. Or the struggle to let your internet viewing only go to sites that are healthy and wholesome. Or perhaps it is that selfish part of you that always wants to choose YOU over the other, receiving over giving, indulgence over sacrifice. What SEEMS to always have the last word in your life? Bring that to the one who is the resurrection and the life. Bring THOSE struggles to the one who called even the hopelessly dead Lazarus from the tomb.
And let him have the last word…