BY DR. AGONSON
Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.
Saint Paul talks about dying daily, and yet every day I find I would rather wallow in self-pity. This whole immortality thing he’s talking about in Corinthians sounds great, but the dying part is hard, really hard. Christian faith is built upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that in the end it is life, not death, which will reign victorious.
“…but some have fallen asleep.” What a polite little euphemism Paul uses, but what did Christ say? “She is not dead, but sleeping.” How insensitive of Jesus to spout a bunch of religion at this grieving family in their moment of loss, except, with Him, though she was dead, yet she would live. The grieving had to die, the mourners were told to go away, and in their stead Christ brought about rejoicing.
This poor behavior, this apparent ignorance of correct funeral etiquette, Christ seems to have spread to his disciples. Peter ruins a perfectly lovely funeral. He’s invited to attend, and when he gets there he sends out all the weeping widows this dead woman—Tabitha, also known as Dorcas—had shown charity to. They try to remember the gifts the departed Dorcas had made for them, but this disreputable Peter doesn’t have any time for bemoaning the loss of such a good woman. Instead he prays, and calls her from death to life.
The bible is replete with such tales of outrageous behavior. Sometimes, Christ isn’t even invited. Happening upon a woman wailing over her dead son, Jesus commands her, “Do not weep”—the gall—and He has the unmitigated brass to then start talking to her one and only son, now dearly departed.
Of course, He tells the young man to get up, which the youth does. What a terrible thing it is to bring someone back from the dead, the bible even says that fear gripped them all. Does the Son of God not know that religion is about making people happy and comfortable?
Who could forget the tale of Lazarus? First, Jesus is late for the funeral of his close friend after saying that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. I suppose Jesus lost a little face when his friend did die, for what else is an end if not death? Then He demands they exhume the body. You’re beginning to see why the Pharisees disliked the guy, no respect for decorum. Everyone tries to tell him the body will stink at this point, but the Prince of Peace will have his way.
He tells a grieving relation that her brother, Lazarus, will rise again. This woman, Martha, takes it in stride though, acknowledging acceptance of some vague eschatological resurrection of the dead. But really, would it be proper in any situation to bring up matters of theology when the troubles of the real world are so blatant? Jesus has to make it all about himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
At least some people don’t kowtow to Him, and bring up a pretty probing question: Why couldn’t He save Lazarus from dying? Would there were more sensible people in the world. Anyway, as I mentioned before, Jesus demands they open Lazarus’ tomb, even at the warning that the body will stink. Then He tells them to take off the dead man’s burial clothes, well, the once dead man’s burial clothes.
Not even when it’s His own funeral can Jesus behave. Christ wouldn’t stay where He was planted for more than three days. He doesn’t even have the decency to come back as something sensible—like a ghost—but He has to bodily rise from the dead.
Maybe, it’s not the dying that is the hardest part of being a Christian, for many of us can accept that Christ died. Perhaps, the struggle lies in getting up out of our graves. The grave, once there, is a cozy hell. It’s not nice, but it is a sure thing when compared to Jesus’ question, “Do you believe this?”
Not many people have trouble believing in Christ, but only up to a point. A wise teacher? That’s okay to believe. Suffered under Pilate? Probably. Rose from the dead? There is the point of contention, a fact that has changed the world forever.
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:19
Listen to my beautiful voice: