Open your graves

A grave is a place of loss and finality. We’ve stood at grave sides and mourned the “passing” of someone. They have gone. We will not see them again. For those close to the deceased person there is a terrible emptiness. For those with no sense of life after death the loss is a meaningless enigma.

John, in his gospel, gives us a dramatic story of the death and mourning for Lazarus. The tomb is sealed with a large stone. The body is decaying inside. We know what happens next. The sisters of Lazarus know Jesus and call him. He delays but eventually comes and orders the grave opened and raises Lazarus to life.

Other gospels tell us of other people raised from the dead but this one is sensational. The body has been in the tomb for four days. But it doesn’t make a dent in the Jewish leaders’ firm resolve to get rid of Jesus and they “decided to kill Lazarus as well.” (John 12:10)

We are not talking here about physical graves. John, in his gospel, is much more interested in the grave where the Jews buried their hopes for a new Israel.

They could not bring themselves to welcome the promised Messiah. His coming was not to their liking. He was going to disturb everything. They did not want an Israel fashioned according to the reign of God.

They buried that and sealed the grave not with the hardness of cement but with the hardness of their hearts. It is a terrifying and sad image of finality solemnly confirmed some days later when Jesus stands before Caiphas.

The weight of the Passion and the entry “into darkness” (Lam. 3:2) during these final days of Jesus’ life on earth push us to feel in our bones the crushing power of evil. This week, the one million mark was reached for people driven out of Syria by war and living in Lebanon. In a recent film, Twelve Years a Slave, a professional man with a young family is captured and sent into slavery where he is utterly powerless and treated abominably. In our own country we keep meeting people who are utterly desperate and wondering how they can survive.

“The evil that men do” is everywhere but it is not the final story. There is a short passage from Ezekiel (Chap. 37) we read this Sunday which mentions graves four times in a couple of verses. It is a firm promise: “I am now going to open your graves, my people…. And I shall put my spirit in you and you will live.” The message we will celebrate at Easter is that God can prise open the graves we bury ourselves in. “Lazarus, come out!” It is a call also to us.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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