I have distinct memories connected to the births of my children. All the births were unique in their own way. My first child was hesitant at first. Wanting to do things on her own terms, she took her time. The second child, true to his nature, did it the hard way. Third child, never wanting to disappoint others, had a relatively easy birth. However, she did start to demonstrate a capacity to procrastinate when she didn’t grow. And the fourth, well... being so laid back, he has always found ways to make things easier for himself. Birth was no exception.
While each of my children’s births may have been unique, they all had things in common too. Same parents. Same doctor. Same hospital. And beyond our own experience, they shared the same things we all look for at the time of birth: signs of life, usually signified by breath and cries. Breath comes in so that cries can come out. When this happens, we know that there is life.
The story of Lazarus is long and complex and contains many important indications of who Jesus is and many indications of who we are. However, at its heart, it is a story of birth. And more specifically, a story of rebirth.
Lazarus is dead and in the tomb four days already by the time Jesus arrives. Like the births that we have experienced, the same signs that we look for were present, except in rebirth it happens in reverse of what we usually look for. It is Jesus who cries out. It is his breath leaving his mouth that enters the place of death and brings his friend back to life. As Lazarus leaves the tomb, his grave clothes are removed. Death no longer binds him. He is alive.
As St. Athanasius reminds us, the same voice, that same breath that created the universe, reanimated and recreated Lazarus. God crying out for us; God crying out to us. This is the source of rebirth. This is the source of new life.
Soon we will recount the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and we will remember that it is from that place of death that Jesus cries out and breathes his last. The creative breath of God leaves his body and enters the tomb of our existence, a fallen, dying, and dead creation, so that all whom it enters might be recreated and have new life. It is from the cross that Jesus calls out to the dead Lazarus in all of us… “Come out!”
Photo Credit: Noel Wygiera. Main door at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.