Come Out and Unbind: Lazarus, New Life, and the Easter Story
"Signs of Life"
The tulips are rising from the ground
as if, having heard their name,
they suddenly walked toward the sound
of winter’s stone rolling away.
One by one, their buds loosen and blush
crimson, fuchsia, boysenberry.
For the first time their unwrapped
faces see and are seen.
I cut one of each color
and bring their green-stemmed mouths
to the cup of water. Arranged
on the windowsill they bow respectfully
to passersby who are also coming
out of their tombs. After resurrection
comes the unbinding, the learning
what it means to be free.
The lectionary approaches Easter by way of another encounter with death. In the raising of Lazarus, we hear Christ’s famous imperative, “Take away the stone” followed by, “Lazarus, come out.” We Christians tend to linger on this imagery year after year, but then we come to chapter 11 of John’s gospel, what I call the miracle after the miracle:
“The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”
The community, gathered around the miraculous, receives its second imperative:
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
The imagery of resurrection is woven into the Christian faith, which can often cause expectations of transformation. We who were once dead are made alive again. What it means to be a person faith is not dissimilar from what it means to be a human being. It is a process of becoming, not an event.
Through my experience in the world and life with others, I am becoming a human being. Through my dialogue with the mystery and with others, I am becoming a person of faith. We both are and are becoming. If we look again at the story of Lazarus as a microcosm for the life of faith, we find a new imagery in the stones and cloth.
Within the text, we receive two imperatives from Jesus, “come out” and “unbind.” As people of faith, it is good to remember that the work of becoming is not work we do alone. We are but partners in both of these processes. We are able to relax into the idea that there are aspects of our becoming that belong to a higher power. We have no control over them and we leave them to God. This is not a stance of passivity, but of peace. We belong to God in life and in death.
We are called from our tombs and do not emerge on our own. This is not the entire story. On the journey of faith, we also encounter stones that seal us off from life and cloth that binds our transformation. Herein lies the heart of God: that human hands are used to accomplish God’s work.
What God makes alive, it is our responsibility to help unbind. This is no small miracle, but the one that comes to us in tangible ways. It is God’s work; it is our work; it is the work of social justice, of repairing the world.
When we make sure our neighbors have the ability to make a home, we unbind ourselves. When we work to make the stories of minorities rise to the top, we unbind ourselves. When we advocate for work that is purposeful and sustaining, we unbind ourselves. When we remind women of their own power and give them access to education, we unbind ourselves. When we welcome the stranger and affirm their humanity, we unbind ourselves. Through this process we remember the many people who came and unbound us and we learn continually what it means to be free.
In the raising of Lazarus, I am reminded that we must be gracious with one another as we recognize the fact that we’re all in various stages of coming out of our tombs. The process of coming alive is mysterious and holy work. In the unbinding of Lazarus, I am reminded that we need one another alongside us as we undergo the vulnerable process of being unwrapped, of seeing in a new way, of learning to use our hands and feet again.
Transformation is life-long work. As we move toward Easter, may we respect the journey of the other. May we reach for our neighbor and do the work of unbinding. May we look for signs of life within us and move from our tombs. May we partner with one another in the process of becoming more fully alive.