Saturday, October 20, 2012

Into that darkness

Farewell, beloved brother! Farewell, brother beloved of the Lord! Though we loved you well, our love could not heal you of that sickness, nor stop you from descending into that darkness of the grave. But we knew, I knew, that the man who loved you would heal you, would not let his holy one experience corruption, would not leave his lover’s bones scattered at the mouth of She’ol. I sent word to him by a servant, ‘Come, Master! The man you love is ill,’ knowing he would come in time and raise you from your bed of sickness as he had many others. I knew he would come, but he did not.

I was devastated. I was destroyed. But then as now, I prayed, ‘I have faith, even when I say I am completely crushed.’ Only now, I know for sure that which before I had merely hoped, because he who said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’ proved on the battlefield of his body that even the vanquished is victor, that not sickness only is swallowed up in health, but death in life. Yet here I sit beside you, watching, as I did many years ago, a second time talking to you as alive, though you sleep, and this time for good. I need send no message by a servant. I know he comes. He knows I call.

He comes, yes, but nothing ever happens the same way twice. Then, our house in Bethany was full of rich Jews, friends from Jerusalem, come to help us through those awful days of wretched mourning, only to see that all they could do was nothing. The grief of death remained in me, cold, stiff, dead, incapable of rising on its own, except as a statue with sculpted sorrow on stone lips, with unseeing eyes, unhearing ears, locked forever in formal poise. Then, sister roused me from my hopeless reverie, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ I fell at his feet, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother…’

That time by his words he remade the world, yours, and ours. The crowd of consolation looked on, in consternation, as he stood among us before your tomb and wept, and they said to each other and to us, ‘So now he weeps! Where was the wonderworker when his beloved lay dying? He could have prevented…’ but we didn’t listen to them. Already by his presence, my eyes were beginning to see, my ears to hear, as they saw and heard you, brother beloved, emerging in your swaddling like a wrapped babe, as his words, ‘Lazarus, here, come out!’ undying resounded from that first moment, and even now.

Yes, even now, as I sit here before your quiet body a second time, but nothing ever happens the same way twice. Our house on this Greek isle again hosts your mourners, few Jews among them, but gentiles, and their sorrow is not grief, nor is mine, only a chill to the bones and a quietude, the same as we experience when we pray in the purple, pre-dawn darkness in a cemetery of the just, waiting with them for the final sunrise. ‘Eternal be your memory, dear brother, for you are worthy of entering into life,’ this song cutting broad swathes of melody in the fields of our hearts, healing us as he has healed you.

Healing you, brother beloved of the God who walks among us, who loves us more, invisibly, even than when he was visible among us. Healing you he comes, even as he knows I call. Yet the day is dark. Dark as that prayer cried out in the house of separation. Once, he delayed his coming, that we might descend into that darkness with you, proving us in the weakness of our human faith helpless and lost. Then, standing before that darkness, he called you, and us, out of it once and for all. Yet the darkness remains. It is the world. It is where we must live, no, where we must die in order to live beyond it.

I remember our last walk together, yours and mine, before you took to your bed, and our last talk. We reminisced. We were wealthy, once, many years ago, living in our villa in Bethany outside of Jerusalem. I could not remember how you met the Lord, but you reminded me, ‘I was that rich young man who at first went away.’ The Lord was attracted to your beauty. You always were a handsome man, even as you are now, lying before me, asleep in the body, soul listening to my thoughts. He was attracted to your beauty, but not to what is only seen, for he knows all men. He looks into our hearts.

Even in letting you go, after telling you, ‘If you would be perfect, go and sell what you own, and give to the poor, and come and follow me,’ he knew. He knew you would return. And he has replaced our former riches with treasure that cannot be depleted, his words, even taking from us our old wealth and granting us a new, ‘A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “Go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it, and went,’ and again, ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ Wealth not to buy things, but to purchase men’s souls.

He who is infinitely rich became poorest of the poor to walk among us, teaching us, we are all poor in the eyes of the Lord. Yet that poverty is true wealth, because he has bestowed it. You reminded me of these, and other sayings you heard from his lips. And I revealed words he spoke to me, or heard him tell to the crowds when I followed him into Jerusalem that final week. I remember how surprised I was when I heard him tell of what you dreamt when you lay in your tomb, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple… and at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus…’ and like Joseph, interpret it.

These things, dear brother, let me rehearse in your presence as I sit watching over you. By mercy you were once raised from death, and by grace you have now been freed, this time forever. We spend all our lives trying to hide from the darkness of the fact that everything is moving, unstoppably, toward dissolution and death, towards nothing. Then a man appears who not only commands the dead to ‘come out’ but at last even disappears himself into that darkness, and then reappears, alive. ‘Man makes an end of darkness when he pierces to the uttermost depths the black and lightless rock…’

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