Looking Like Lazarus

Last week, my priest made a point I’d never considered before. There is a difference between resurrection and resuscitation. Today’s readings are about resuscitation, or reanimation. People who were once dead are made to live again. However, even though they are given new—or maybe more is a better word—life, those people are in bodies that will die permanently at some point.

Jesus’ resurrection is different. When Jesus is resurrected, he is something completely different from the human being he was when he was walking around on earth. So different, in fact, that people don’t recognize him—they have to eat with him, or, in the case of the women at the tomb, be told by an angel what’s what.

Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself—we’ve still got Palm Sunday to get through before we start celebrating the resurrection—but I think it’s worth noting the distinction at this point in Lent.

At the beginning of our blogging experiment, Summer talked about how, for her, Lent is a little like getting a check-up—checking in with God and using the season as a time to reflect on what needs to be different going forward. I think most of us go into Lent looking, like Lazarus and Ezekiel and Paul, for reanimation of our spiritual lives. We may feel a bit dried up spiritually, skeletal, even. Maybe harried schedules and worldly concerns have sucked away our connection to God and we feel like piles of dried bones.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that these lessons are the last ones before Palm Sunday. After all, Lent is almost over, so this is typically the time when I start coming to terms with what a terrible job I did with whatever Lenten discipline I chose to take on. I had grand ideas this year about getting up early and spending time in prayer. I would read the lectionary every day and reflect on it in preparation for a blog post. I was also planning to avoid Starbucks and cut out all desserts. Most of that didn’t happen.

I started this post last night when I was already falling asleep, and I’m finishing it an hour before I’m supposed to get to church. I’m still in my bathrobe, and the children haven’t had breakfast.

So I’m not exactly feeling like I’ve achieved the spiritual renewal I was looking for. And that’s where these passages come in. It’s like the church is reminding everyone that God can’t be stopped. Not even by our own failures. Because I saw the problem in the first sentence of this paragraph even as I was typing it—it’s not about whether I’ve achieved anything. Lenten disciplines, and really, everything about our relationship with God, are about God transforming us.

I always go into Lent making the same mistake: I’m looking for reanimation, resuscitation. I want to be like Lazarus and go back to the way things were. Back to the love and pure faith I had when I was sixteen and my faith was constantly new to me. Back to the days of hour-long quiet times and Bible studies before school. I yearn for the attitude I had of pure surrender—I had no control over a big chunk of my life and a lot of worry about the future. Letting go and letting God take care of it all was a glorious relief.

And I have been reanimated. I have lately found myself not feeling like I ought to go to church, but like I want to. Our “new” church, which we’ve been attending on and off for a decade, is starting to feel like home.

But I think most of what God has been doing with me during Lent—and during my life—is resurrection. My faith looks nothing like the faith I had when I was sixteen. I find I gain more strength and comfort from the contradictions and mysteries than from the certainties. In a lot of physical ways, I no longer feel like it’s a guarantee that God’s got my back. But I have more confidence than ever that God can transform any disaster that comes this way. In short, if my sixteen-year-old self were to come looking for her faith in the woman I am today, she might not recognize it. It’s been resurrected. I have spent years mourning that resurrection because I was spending all my time saying, like Martha, “Lord, if you had been there, he wouldn’t have died.”

So. My wish for all of us for the rest of Lent is this: may God save us all from trying so hard to be Lazarus that we don’t let him turn us into the resurrected Christ.

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