From Life to Life ©
Thoughts on the 5th Sunday in Lent, April 7, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
“See how he loved him.” John 11:36
The Gospel today is the story of the Raising of Lazarus
Jean’s sister Joyce is dying. She is in hospice receiving comfort and palliative care. It is only a matter of time and she will pass. We went to be with the family this past week. Her family is her husband, Bob, two daughters, one with a spouse and one with a life partner, 5 grandchildren, three siblings, and extended others. Jean and I experienced what members of our Mary of Magdala Community have also experienced in the past year or two and for others further back in time.
This family, our family, now shares what happens in the passing that is dying. We believe that Joyce is going somewhere, that she will live on, but the separation and the process of it – as one of her daughters so artfully put it – well, it sucks! Regardless of anything else thoug, this family believes that Joyce is not ended only changed. These 5 grandchildren are hearing from their grandfather and their parents that Grandma Joyce will live on in a real life, as real as this life, beyond what we experience here.
This family believes this about death and life apart from any church teaching or doctrine, depending on no clergy, hierarchy or organization. This family has chosen paths other than mainstream religion – but then, haven’t we all? – and yet their spirituality is clear and strong, well-fortified by their family life. At one point around Joyce’s bed we said prayers. For some of us that meant a chaplet of Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. One of Joyce’s daughters told her son who was present, “We send our prayers to the Universe!” Indeed we do.
Life calls to life. We are probably all clear on the fact that none of us creates the condition of beginning our own lives. And none of us is in charge of where we are going. Despite this unknowing we still share the conviction that we all, like Joyce, are going somewhere.
I draw comfort, as you may also, from the awareness that this view on life and living is ancient. Probably no surprise here that we humans have seen this passage of life through death to new life as our plight for quite awhile. My latest best buddy in the world of Philosophy is Michel Henry. In his book, “I Am the Truth,” Henry calls attention to this awareness that we, as living persons do not draw our condition of living from ourselves. We live through the care of the One we call Absolute Life, some say God. The self-givenness of Absolute Life enlivens us and is there with us at our passing. Henry also makes the point of this ancient view by referring to Anselm of Canterbury, best known for what is referred to as the Ontological Argument, something we will save for another time. Over 900 years ago Anselm wrote a prayer about this bond with God, with Absolute Life.
“Teach my heart where it may seek thee, where and how it may find thee.”
In this searching, as one who lives, we give the heart the role of beating as one in this life and in the new life to come. No conceptual understanding comes close to matching the intuition of a heart who acknowledges this forever bond of life with Life.
Henry refers to this as the distinction between Revelation and Reason. Life reveals itself to us as that which is endless. We may say we rationally understand the nature of how this life operates. But reason with its concepts is no match with the seeing of intuition wherein it is a revelation to us that life is changed not ended.
Henry goes so far as to say that all our rational conceptualizations only serve the fantasy, if not the absurdity, that we can control God by knowing God. The deeper truth is that our hearts see life – whether in our love for each other or in a thankfulness for gracefulness that bonds us with Absolute Life, or we may say – God.
Which brings us to today’s story in John’s Gospel of the raising of Lazarus. Too often this story is retold to make the point of Jesus’ power. Let’s take a step back for the sake of context.
This final Lenten Sunday before the start of Holy Week on Palm Sunday is the perfect time in a liturgical sense for this story. Before we start the Palm Sunday processions. Before we celebrate the liturgies which remind us that the pattern of struggle and suffering to death and then to resurrection is the pattern we see of our own life, before all this we first gain insight into Jesus and his friend, Lazarus..
In terms of Jesus’ own life let’s remember that his visit to the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary came only days before his own entry into Jerusalem. Instead of power I choose to see the crying Jesus. We’re told that on the death of his friend Jesus was moved by the deepest emotions. His tears, we may assume, are because of this separation by death of the two friends. We may further assume that Jesus was clear about life living beyond death. But his humanity got the better of him. He made God work not because of the power of the divine but because of the love of a friend.
Jesus feels this sorrow, this separation, that loved ones feel when the one who loves them is moving on, is going somewhere. “See how much he loved him.” It can be said of any one of us who feel this same pain of separation. “See how much she loved her.”
This pain is not forever. The Revelation of Life is God’s way of access to us – now and in our forever life.
The path of dry land between separated waters, the abundance of food in the desert, and the vitality of water flowing freely for all to drink – all these signs bless us on our way to you , O God. The journey of life to life is your gift to each one of us as Creator of all.
This Lenten time reminds us that death is a change not an ending, that struggles are preparation not brick walls, that hope is our vision of new Life. May your love emerge from us to share with all who enter our lives, that we may be community as we give you glory. Amen.
Mary: A Life in Verse, Patricia Monaghan
The Prophecy Recalled
I remembered at the strangest times:
when I smoothed his tangled hair
or when he ran in panting from play,
when he slept and I memorized
every shadow on his face,
never when he wanted something,
or when he fixed me with those
pleading eyes, not when he was
ashamed of himself and hid,
not when we laughed together
but in the odd oblique moments
when his attention was
elsewhere and mine on him,
I remembered what the old man
said: that I would see him die.
Dos Madres Press, www.dosmadres.com