Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Word For the Week

John 11:1-45

We dodged a bullet yesterday, albeit a minor one. It was supposed to snow 1-2", perhaps more. We were worried our new buds would freeze.

But at the last minute, the storm veered off. We had a snow shower, some sprinkles. By late afternoon, patches of blue were breaking through the top of the sky. Today was mild; we spent an hour pruning a tree and clearing leaves from last year's bulbs, which did indeed survive the winter.

Spring puts us in mind of the resurrection; there's a reason Easter is celebrated early in the year. It's good to be reminded that after death, there comes new life, especially after a hard season.

We're not out of the woods yet, of course. Even in South Central Pennsylvania, the middle of March is a contested month. One stray blast from Canada and we could be back in the deep freeze.

Which in turn puts us in mind of the story of Lazarus, who dodges a bullet of his own, sort of. He falls ill and dies while Martha and Mary await the arrival of Jesus. By the time he gets there, Lazarus has been gone four days. He's literally started to stink up the joint. Nevertheless, at his sisters' imploring, Jesus calls him out of his tomb and into the world of the living—only for the reader to hear in the very next chapter that the authorities are plotting his murder.

The contest continues. Eventually, Lazarus dies again.

So his rising isn't a resurrection. That term is reserved for Christ's triumph and his transformation into a new way of being after Easter. But it's obvious that John thought something had happened. Jesus displays a command of death and life that goes far beyond the powers of a mere healer.

I've been fumbling for this story in this bloody week bookended by bombings in Iraq and assaults on judges and their families at home. I did some Googling before writing today: there were 119,000 news stories this week about someone being killed. 63,700 stories mentioned someone dying; 14,100 mentioned a burial.

But to invert Stalin, "a million deaths is a statistic; one death is a tragedy." What's gotten under my skin this week, as we've awaited proper Easter weather, has been one death in particular.

He was a young man, a little out of college. We'd heard of, but only met, him once, a couple of weeks ago at the going-away party of one my wife's staff. He was her ex-boyfriend, someone she'd known all her life and dated off and on since she was 15.

A week after she moved to Baltimore, he overdosed on drugs at his mother's home and died on a Sunday morning.

It's strange to drink with a person one night, then hear a week later that he's dead, senselessly. It got to me for other reasons, too: the girlfriend he left behind is young and pretty and full of life and I have to admit I'm a bit protective of her. It saddens me to think about the pain she's had in the past week.

Which in a way puts us back where we began. All week, without knowing it, I have been running through this story in the back of my head, saying—asking, really, begging—Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Wondering, were you disturbed? Were you greatly moved? Are you the resurrection and the life?

Because I believe, Lord, I believe. But in a contested month in a contested life, I can't help keeping one eye on the clouds and one hand free to pull my jacket tight as an icy breeze blows across my shoulders and down my collar, wondering how long it's going to take you to show up this time.

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