“Lazarus! Come out!”
The mention of his name struck Lazarus as a clarion call, and suddenly he opened his eyes although it was still dark around him. Jesus was calling him into being and he could not but respond. That is what happens to us when love calls at our door. Like the rousing trumpet that Paul describes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, or the voice Hezekiel tells of in the valley of dry bones, it has the power to restore the dead to life.
For Jesus loved Lazarus, there is no denying that. The gospel says as much and there is even a case to be made for Lazarus being identical with the beloved disciple. For my part I can easily picture Jesus and Lazarus snuggling together, spooning in the cold night, and Jesus whispering in Lazarus’s ear: “Tell me again, what was it like in Sheol.”
And like so many nights before, Lazarus answered him and told his story. He told him what it was like to live an unlife, to walk among shadows in a gray and featureless landscape, bereft of hope and longing. To walk among throngs of people and not be able to touch or be touched. And he told him what it was like to wake up, to hear the voice, to be called into existence again. To feel the weight of one’s limbs, their ache and their glory, to cast off their swaddling and to emerge into the light in search of the beloved, eyes pierced at first by the blinding light. To hear the murmurings of the crowd as you stagger, naked, in search of the voice that called you, until you collapse into his arms.
“It is all well”, whispered Jesus in his ear. “One day I will come out too.”
Love is what makes us real. It calls us into existence. And when love is denied, reality withers. Too many of us, for too long a time, have been condemned to a shadowy half-life. When we are forced to deny ourselves or parts of ourselves, those parts eventually wither and die. Until they are called back into life, if that ever happens. Many of us are forced to lead a double life, nurturing our secret hopes and desires in private, in the dark or just separated from our daily life, which is impoverished by the lack of our true selves. Becoming drab, becoming trite. Becoming Sheol.
I lived for a long time in Sheol, working and serving in a church where I walked as a ghost. I could sense there being life close by, but I was never a part of it, never invited. Nobody called my name, my real name that says who I really am.
Even today I’m not comfortable hugging my straight male friends. I have no language to express affection that is not sexual. Male affection for me is inextricably linked with shame and also a very real risk of being verbally abused or even beaten up. So I learned to demurely lower my eyes. Don’t look, and by all means don’t touch. In fact, don’t feel. Because if you feel, you may be tempted to look, and if you look, you may be tempted to touch. Tear out your eye, why don’t you, while you’re at it, and cast it away.
So I tore out my eye. I get along with just one, but sometimes I miss my other eye. I miss being able to love unconditionally and unabashedly. Spiritually, I live an unlife. I walk in the shadows, in a gray and featureless landscape, bereft of hope and longing. I walk among throngs of people, unable to touch or be touched.
But Jesus looked and touched and loved. Looking at the rich young man, he loved him. The gospel says it out loud, without blushing. And he touched. He touched, he kissed men and women on the mouth, he touched lepers, bleeding people, dead people. He was happy to let the beloved disciple rest his head on his chest as they lay together. He spat on the ground and stuck his fingers in people’s ears. Although he was perfectly capable of healing at a distance, he liked to get up close and personal. His was the love that dared to speak its name. And I wait for him to speak mine, to call me into existence.
It is all well. One day I will come out too.