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My Lenten Devotion: Lazarus, Come Forth

Some years ago when I was an active member of the Northridge Wesleyan Church, I participated in a four-part Lenten study — that included a lot of good food. The theme of the study was : “Let this Mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Each week, we focused on a specific scripture and members shared their contemplation on that scripture — in poems or responses they had written. These responses were edited and assembled with pictures into a little book we distributed on Easter Sunday. To make the cover of the book, we photoshopped trees and flowers and the location of and message on the sign. The scriptures chosen for the study were:

  • For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve … (Mark 10:45)
  • Before Abraham was born, I am. (John 8:58)
  • Father if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. (Luke 22:15)
  • I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you. (Luke 22:42)

I wrote a response and last summer this response came to mind when I visited a friend — a retired preacher and Bible scholar — and she asked if I had written anything interesting lately. I thought she would enjoy my efforts to contemplate the meaning of the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. In February, for her 95th birthday, I dug up this Lenten Devotion to send to her. It’s my best effort, I think, to explain my understanding of the message of Christ.

Lazarus, Come Forth

In John 8 we read these words of Jesus, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” To me, this saying of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John, shows that the Mind of Christ, as revealed through Jesus, is one anchored in its true identity. If we are to have the Mind of Christ, we must have a mind that is anchored in reality. We must be grounded in our right mind.

We read in Mark 5 of a mentally deranged man who was dangerously divided from his own self. The scripture says about this man:

“No one was strong enough to control him. All day long and through the night he would wander among the tombs and in the wild hills screaming and cutting himself with sharp pieces of stone.” (Mark 5: 4-5)

In this familiar story, Jesus commanded the demons within this man’s mind to leave, and, as they did, the demons entered a herd of hogs. The entire herd plunged into the nearby lake and were drowned. The ending of the story is fascinating:

“And they that fed the swine fled and told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.”

Cutting yourself, wandering around tombs and screaming constantly are indicators of a sick mind, a mind divided from its true self. But “acting normal” doesn’t mean a person is in his or her right mind. Even crazy people can “act.” To be in one’s right mind means more than simply adhering to social norms. It means to be fully aligned with one’s true being — the being whom God created. To be in one’s right mind means to be anchored in reality.

The first book of the Bible gives these insights:

  • “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Genesis 1:26)
  • “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

These verses from Genesis make the astonishing revelation that our rightful mind is the mind that God created and deemed “very good.” Our rightful mind aligns with God’s thinking, His values. These verses say, in short, that a person grounded in his or her true identity has the Mind of Christ, the Mind of Love.

And what does such a person look like? The first Psalm gives a nice description: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in his season.” I love the first Psalm and I can hear its horticultural point of view resonate in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he urges them to be, “rooted and grounded in love.” It is when are roots are immersed in love, it is when we are grounded in Christ, who is Love, that we grow into our true identity.

We can imagine the dark place with the entombed body of Lazarus wrapped in its funeral garb. We can imagine the commotion and anguish outside of this tomb as Jesus gathered there with Mary and Martha and other individuals from the nearby town. There was an outpouring of grief. John’s narration of that scene contains the most touching, yet shortest, verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Lazarus was dead, dead, dead.

The story of Lazarus is the report of a miracle — and a miracle is something far beyond our capacity to understand. The dead cannot hear, but Lazarus heard. He heard the voice of Love calling him: “Lazarus Come Forth.” He moved from death to life. He emerged from the tomb that had contained him.

My friends, we, like Lazarus, also are captivated within a small space. It is the tomb of who we think we are; it is the tomb of our narrow understanding of truth. It is Love that is calling us to come forth from death to life, from the tomb of our self-absorption to the world outside of our selves. It is Love that is urging us to come forth and awaken to our true identity as a child of God.

 

In this pilgrim journey, Oh Lord, may we ever respond to the voice of Love and encourage others to do the same. May we ever grow into your likeness.

Help us to emerge from the tomb of our selfishness, the tomb of our wrong thinking, wrong motives. Help us emerge from the tomb of who we think we are and to grow into the fulness of our true identity. Help us to be so rooted and grounded in your Love that we will grow into our right mind — the Mind that was in Christ Jesus.

Three things we pray: To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly — day by day.

Amen.

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