Rising To New Life
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador

Gospel Reading: The Resurrection of Lazarus - John 11:1-44

I’ve not witnessed anyone come back from the dead- not yet anyways. But I’ve seen people who have come back to life from a spiritual death. A few years ago, while living in Israel, I went on a human rights witness tour to the Palestinian town of South Hebron, perhaps one of the most dangerous and militarized places in Israel, where human rights violations have been widely committed against Palestinians there by the Israeli military and radical Israelis. There is, in fact, an American Christian presence there that documents such crimes. But this trip was conducted by a Jew, a former Israeli soldier, who himself had committed human rights violations there. Ari (that’s our tour guide), after his military draft was finished, had a spiritual awakening. He became aware that because of the cruelty he has inflicted upon the Palestinians during his years of military service, he almost lost his soul, and his own humanity. He was almost as good as dead. But he descended to the darkness of his heart and opened it to spiritual light that changed his life around. By that conversion he had his spiritual resurrection-came back to life from his spiritual death. Then he started going back to Hebron and tried to undo the things he did. Rather than a harbinger of death, he tries to bring new life to that region of violence and death.

The biblical town of Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived is now in the Palestinian territory of al Eizariya (literally “the place of Lazarus”) about a few miles from Jerusalem. The Gospels tells us that the Lord had a close relationship-friendship- with these three, so much so that the Gospel today says that when the Lord’s friend, Lazarus, died, our Lord wept. The tomb of Lazarus is still there visited by countless pilgrims and I had the fortune to visit it myself on a very hot August summer day. When you approach it there is a rather small entrance to a cave-like structure. According to the Gospel it had a large stone door that Jesus had other people removed. If you were to enter the tomb, you must descend a staircase of about 30 steps into a small dark chamber that has a small hole on the floor. And if you enter that hole on the floor, it will lead you to another dark chamber that was the tomb of Lazarus. While the Gospel does not say so, tradition holds it that Jesus then entered the dark tomb bearing light to illuminate the darkness, descended to the dark pit amidst decaying life, and there raised the dead to life. In darkness he shed light. Amidst corruption, he brings wholeness of life. Out of death, new life emerges.

We read this Gospel story of the resurrection of Lazarus as a prelude to Easter Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. But it is not just Lazarus’ resurrection, nor just the resurrection of our Lord, but it is also OUR resurrection. Many things in life hold us captive, imprison us, and entomb us in darkness. In our own personal lives, in our corporate life as church and as a nation are corruption of sin and moral decay. Our lives are fragile made, and we live in the shadows of death- physical and spiritual. There are hidden tombs in our lives where some parts of us have died or are dying. Like Mary and Martha we are weary waiting by the tombs, and waiting for hope- hope that in the midst of decay, corruption and death- spiritual or otherwise- there is to be new life. Sometimes we wonder if help would ever come. Or like Mary, we sometimes think all is too late or that God has not come on time at all. Will he be coming after all and roll away the stone?

The Gospel tells us that God does come even if we think he comes late. He comes to give us life. Do we have the faith of Martha and Mary to believe that God is at work in our lives? Do we have the faith in him to shed light in our darkness? Do we have the faith in him to bring about wholeness when we are corrupt, our lives infected with moral decay? Do we have faith in him to bring forth life in situations and circumstances of our lives that are lifeless? The first thing is to roll away the stone of the tombs in our lives and allow Jesus to descend the steps of our tombs; let him enter in, go deep into the darkness of our souls to shed light and life! But sometimes we rather not look within. We are like Martha who said to Jesus, “Lord, if you roll away the stone, there will be stench of death.” We are afraid of our own darkness and the stench of our own sins and corruption. But unless we roll the stone away, the Lazarus within will not come to the light and life of God.

My rather serious, cynical but humorous professor of pastoral theology recently told a story of his church. He said that for years bats have been living in the attic of the church; and over the years, the bats have multiplied and have been doing some damage to the structure church. But they were left alone. Some in church could not care less whether bats were there or not. Some thought the bats though they destroy the church, they were also good for the church because they kept the insects away. Some said there were no bats at all. No one wanted to open the door of the attic and to look inside. Until one day, my professor went up there, open some attic windows to let the light come in, and the bats were awakened and followed the light out of the attic. What bats are there in the attic of our souls? What bats are there in the attic of our church?

Resurrection from the dead is a rather difficult task because we must confront those things in us we rather not. I am the first to say that in my own personal experience- when I confront my own moral corruption, it requires a tremendous effort to roll the stone away. Like Martha, I say, “Lord, the odor will be great if we roll away the stone.” But the Gospel challenges us to believe that God is greater than our sins and moral decay. He says, “Did I not promise you that when you believe, you shall see the glory of God?” Do we have the courage to believe?


© 2014 Noel E. Bordador

Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Photo by Noel Bordador 2011. Steps descending into Lazarus' Tomb in the West Bank town of al Eizariya, formerly Bethany, east of Jerusalem.

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