God does not like death! How do I know? Look at the scriptures.
From ancient times we read that God does not like death. The prophet Ezekiel comforts the people in exile. He tells them that they do not belong in tombs. God is going to open their graves and they are going to return home. And when God raises us up from our tombs God will fill us with his spirit. That is a promise.
Not only does God not like death, Jesus does not like tombs. When he goes to the sight of his friend’s tomb he does not enter in when they roll back the stone. Instead, he weeps because his friend is dead. Then he does something that is almost impossible to translate- he snorts deeply in his spirit. The translation is “he became perturbed and deeply troubled.” But St. John really says that “he snorts deeply in his spirit” because he is angry that Lazarus dies.
Now, we might want to respond like Martha and Mary. “Um, Jesus we told you that our brother was sick. And if you came right away, our brother would not have died.” Is not this our prayer when a loved one is sick, when a family member is in crisis, when you and I are in real need? My prayer is often, “Lord, where are you? Do you not care? Help me.” These are very real questions that you, Martha, Mary and I pose to the Lord. If the Lord was to answer these questions of his whereabouts, what do I think he would say? “Redemption,” that is what he would say. “I redeemed the world, now help me do redemptive deeds. I resurrected and I resurrected my friend Lazarus. But notice that it was not I that untied him so he could go free. I asked the Church to untie Lazarus. I will call you from the tombs but it is you who must set each other free.”
The problem is that we do not know how to snort with righteous anger at death. Allow me to illustrate someone who decides to snort deeply in his spirit: Kent McKeever. He holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Laws degrees from prestigious colleges and universities. One would think that he would get a high paying job and live comfortably. Instead, due to his personality, Kent and his family move to Waco, Texas, a city with thirty percent poverty. There he opens a legal clinic for the poor. It is not a government run clinic. It is a faith based privately funded clinic for the most poor of the town, many of whom are drug addicts. To help with income, Kent takes a second job as the youth pastor at the Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco. As Kent ponders the tombs of many of his clients, he makes a drastic decision of what to do for the forty days of Lent. So, on Ash Wednesday he dons the attire of a prisoner- an orange jumpsuit. “He said it was partly the result of seeing the calamitous effects of oversentencing (sic) in the clinic he runs; the U.S. has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world.” “I have been thinking about wearing an orange jumpsuit (prisoner attire) every day during Lent. My heart continues to break over and over again at the devastation caused by our War on Drugs and mass incarceration system and ‘tough on crime’ attitude and policy… [T]he countless other ways our world locks up the poor and marginalized… compels me to do something visible to bring attention to the issues and especially to the plight of chains of our own making. Talking about it isn’t enough…[S]ome people have been asking, What if you’re stopped by the police? That’s probably what it’s like to be black or brown walking down the street in a hoodie. Will I be considered a threat? We collectively need to repent of ignorance.”
In the words of St. Paul, if the Spirit of God who raises Jesus from the dead is in us, then we will do the redemptive works of the Spirit. On the other hand, if we prefer the darkness of our tomb then we do nothing but smell badly. Jesus gives thanks that God hears his prayer as he raises Lazarus. At the Eucharist, we can thank God that He does not like death. We do not like death either and we can help untie people as Church if we would just snort a little bit louder!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent