Sunday, April 2, 2017

Life and Grief

Tanner's Resurrection of Lazarus
In the lobby of a chapel at Oxford University, there’s a life-size statue of Lazarus bound from head to foot.  Jesus, you remember, cried out: “untie him and let him go.”  Every church should be about untying people from the many things that hold them back from a relationship with God.  A powerful prayer whenever we enter a church: untie me from attitudes and behaviors that prevent me from becoming my true self: the likeness of God.

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus gave Lazarus a “second chance.”  We have been given many “second chances,” so to speak.  But are we doing anything differently in light of this?

Let’s reflect on life and grieving: life for Lazarus; and initial grief of his sisters, Martha and Mary..

Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill wrote "Lazarus Laughed."  In the play people gathered at Lazarus' home. Lazarus' father proposes a toast: "To my son, Lazarus, whom a blessed miracle has brought back from death."  Lazarus interrupts, "No! There is no death." And the folks echo as a question: "There's no death?"  And Lazarus laughs, and says, happily, "There is only life. I heard the heart of Jesus laughing in my own heart. 'There is only eternal life,' it said. 'Laugh, laugh, with me. Fear is no more.' "

Yes, there's eternal life.  But how reconcile life with grief.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled “A Grief Observed,” exploring the process of grieving in the dying and death of his wife.  Lewis detailed his thoughts about life without his wife, and his anger and bewilderment at God.  He felt a distance from God, a deadening silence, what the 16th century Carmelite John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul.”

Lewis asked, is this what God is really like. But gradually some of the clouds of grief began to lift with the passage of time.  Anger and doubt gave way to acceptance and peace and faith. It was like the breaking through of the sun after an overcast morning.

In some ways, Lewis wrote, his youthful faith was like a “house of cards” that had to be shattered so that God could fashion an adult faith.

Lewis came to realize it's healthy to think about mortality from time to time.  It puts things in perspective.  Life is a pilgrimage, a journey, a passage. We have to let go in order to go forward, and to let go is to die a little.  But we let go, and eventually we let go of our earthly life so that we can become transfigured, like Jesus Christ before us, into a new kind of spiritual embodiment.

Back to Jesus and Lazarus and ourselves.  We might shout to Jesus: untie me from the attitudes and behaviors that prevent me from becoming my true self: the likeness of God.

Life and death.  We are forever changing and everything around us is changing.  But change involves loss, loss involves grief, grief involves pain.  And yet our faith proclaims that life leaps out of death; in the agony of our Good Fridays is the ecstasy of Easter.

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