He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Living On the Mountain: Out of the Tomb

Today I heard an excellent homily on the Gospel reading, which was the passage in which Lazarus is raised from the dead.  This passage is well known not just for the raising of the dead, but for the tears Jesus cried for his friend Lazarus.  When it is well delivered (which is certainly was today), it is a very moving passage to hear.

The pastor took note of the fact that Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, and Lazarus came out, though he was restrained by the burial wrappings and unable to see clearly.  He also pointed out that many of us find ourselves in tombs as well, either because we created them ourselves or were put in them by others.  Some of the ways we create tombs for ourselves are by deadening our senses with alcohol, pills, smoking, injecting, watching TV, casual sex, hurting others, overwork, and in many other ways retreating from the difficulties of life. 

The problem with this approach, in my experience, is that when we retreat from the difficulties of life we also retreat from many of the blessings we find in life.  We might retreat from a difficult marriage by diving into our challenging work and focusing heavily on getting all sorts of good work done; we might find that in doing this, we don't find enough support in our weakened marriage to carry us through the difficult times at work.  It is easy to retreat from difficulties and back ourselves right into a dangerous corner with more difficulties than ever.

In my teens I had entombed myself pretty thoroughly already.  The foundation of the tomb was solid pride, unshaken and unstirred by any rumblings of imperfection on my part.  The walls were made of all the injuries I had not forgiven, both those injuries done to me and the injuries I had done to others.  The roof was made of all the reading I did and the video games I played that kept me from feeling the harsh light and warmth of a troubled world.  The burial wrappings constraining me were the cynicism and bitterness at the world I used to justify my attempts to shut it out.  The wrappings kept me from truly seeing the suffering of others and caring for them as I should have.  Over the past few years, I have been hard at work extricating myself from those wrappings and tearing down the tomb I built for myself.

My grandfather, when he was a younger man, had entombed himself as well in many of the usual ways.  He worked excessive hours, enjoyed his alcohol, enjoyed his smoking, enjoyed his chewing tobacco, and perhaps enjoyed other things I'm not aware of.  My grandfather came out of tomb when Jesus called.  He gave up drinking and smoking very abruptly, turned his life over to Christ, and gradually gave up the other things that were dragging him toward the tomb as well.  Before he entered eternal life, he had already left the tomb to encounter his beloved Jesus, just as Lazarus did.

May we all do the same, coming out the tomb at the call of Christ to live fully with Him and carry His peace and love into the world for as long we are able.

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