20 December 2016
The Battle belongs to the Lord: Part 2
Part Two: Resurrection, Raising from Death and Revival
Charles Wesley marks the contrast here between the raising of Lazarus from death and the resurrection of Jesus as Lord of all Creation. One is a raising from death, the other the power of resurrection for eternity.
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal!
Christ has burst the gates of hell;
death in vain forbids him rise;
Christ has opened paradise.
The first line could be at the tomb of Lazarus, a burial, with a community weeping, facing the finality of death and hope having vanished into grief. That is except for one voice of faith and hope, from Mary, that Jesus would raise Lazarus from death. Jesus weeps at the cost of grief, I guess the narrative suggests at the cost before him in this miracle, perhaps for all deaths, including his own.
Dragging Lazarus back out of the tomb has occasionally been captured cinematically and it's rather shocking and terrifying. It isn't resurrection, it is revival (to die once more later on: I feel rather sorry for Lazarus in that regard). There are many things we can pray to God for revival for, even for people who have just died. It is extremely unusual for God to revive. Much more usual is for seeds to fall, as if dead, into the ground for new growth to occur. Church-planting and missional communities embody a way to, not simply revive God's ways of working in society, but to take the seeds of past mission and begin a new work.
Diane saw that, she longed for new things, new songs, new growth. I imagine she would've loved to have had longer to serve before life ended and she would have been glad for the prayers offered in the face of death, for her immediate rescue from it. God's rescue from death though, is always, is permanent, is eternal, in-no-ways temporary.
When someone we love dies, their very dying can empower us for our own transformation. Even our relationship with that person isn't over, it is that now the responsibility lies with us, to let the life of that person continue to help us in our journey towards the likeness of Christ. We may wish they would not have died, long for them to return from death (to die later on of course), that may still be our heart's hope: Jesus weeps with us in this kind or mourning (as he wept at the tomb of Lazarus).
The last three lines of this verse are not set at Lazarus's tomb, they have nothing in common with that place, except that we know from the narrative that Jesus raised Lazarus to show the power of the resurrection. It is worth remembering that a raising from death is only a flavour of resurrection power. The same goes for Church 'revivals'; sometimes we can reverse the dying of a former way of being church, but it is only a flavour of the power of resurrection. Most often we must find God's kingdom breaking into each of our ordinary and very mortal (short-lived) earthly realities again and again in new and startling ways that come like heavenly messages and gifts of love.