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A Poem for the 5th Sunday in Lent

April 7, 2019  —  Fifth Sunday in Lent

Rev. Alison Quin

Today’s Readings:

A Poem for the 5th Sunday in Lent

Lazarus’ ragged breathing was the only sound in the room.

His sisters kept an agonized vigil at his side,

rising only to send for Jesus.

“Quick, run, bring him here.

Tell him Lazarus is dying!”

But Jesus didn’t come.

Lazarus drew his last breath.


An air of unreality descending,

the sisters began doing last things.

Washing and anointing their brother’s body,

trying to memorize the beloved face,

before covering it for all time with a cloth,

before they laid him in the tomb.


Friends and neighbors gathered,

bringing food, trying to console.

The wailing of mourners was punctuated by silence

And hushed whispers

as they carried  Lazarus to the tomb.


Day and night followed each other

In a blur

As they struggled to take in

the finality of his death.


Finally, finally Jesus came.

Martha rushed out to meet him.

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

If you had been here…

Why weren’t you here?


Jesus answered with an enigma:

“I am resurrection and I am life.

Whoever believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?”

Martha believed—a miracle of faith

In her bewildered grief.

Then Mary came out, weeping.

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”


The words pierced his heart

and Jesus wept as they led him

to the tomb where Lazarus lay.

“Take away the stone,” he said.

“But he has been dead for four days!

The stench will be terrible.”

“Take away the stone.”

So they did.


“Lazarus, come out!”

Lazarus came out, weak, stumbling,

fingers fumbling at the cloth over his face.

Lazarus, impossibly alive again,

his mortal self reconstituted

by the Son of God, the Giver of Life.

The sisters, who went out weeping,

helped carry him home with shouts of joy.


Word got around:  he even raises the dead!

Some were afraid—if we let him go on like this,

everyone will believe in him.

And then the Romans will destroy all of us.

So from that day on, they began planning

his death.


Jesus went away for a while with his disciples,

until it was time.

(We know what time that was—the shadow of the cross

still falls across our paths.)


Now he is at Bethany,

At dinner with Lazarus and the twelve,

with Mary and Martha,

celebrating Lazarus who was dead

and is now alive again.

Did they remember what Jesus had told them,

that he too would die and rise again?

Did they sense that

He would bring them with him

From death to life?

Or did their hearts fail them

when they looked into the abyss

and strained to take in the mystery

of joy and suffering,

life and death

held together

in the mind of God?


Did they will themselves not to think about

The possibility of Jesus’ death?


At the house in Bethany, Lazarus and his sisters

already knew about waiting for God

when all hope is extinguished.

Death and resurrection

were already written on their hearts,

and they believed.


Mary rushed to the shelf

where she kept her ointment;

the expensive stuff she was saving for her wedding.

She did what she could for Jesus.

She reached for him during his hour

and anointed him for burial.

Her love was extravagant:

a whole pound of ointment!

Kneeling at his feet like a slave,

she wiped his feet with her hair,

a gesture of absurd intimacy.

The others averted their eyes, embarrassed,

except for Judas, who was angry

and scolded her.


The early church thought that

Judas was motivated by greed.

They accused him of stealing.

But maybe he was shocked and afraid

that Jesus would choose the path of suffering,

that he would not fight back against oppression.

Maybe Judas could not bear

the awful mystery of death

(such a death!)

leading to life.


Don’t our hearts quail before that mystery too?

Don’t we long for Easter without Good Friday?

And what about the poor?

“The poor will be with you always.”

Did Jesus really mean to condone poverty

and authorize the church to

spend money on luxuries?

Or was he simply reminding us,

in our abstract struggle for justice,

not to overlook the one standing

in front of us,

the one who needs our love?


Can we love that person?

Take her hand,

Kneel at her feet,

Tenderly care for her?


Can we pour out our heart’s treasure

And fill the whole room with the fragrance of our love

Without counting the cost?


Jesus gave his all for us,

His life poured out

In extravagant love

For each one of us.


Can we let ourselves be loved with abandon?

Can we bear a God who would die for us,

Who would kneel at our feet?

Do we dare to believe, like Mary,

that in all our deaths,

we die with Christ

and are raised with him to new life?




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