[If desired, you could have an individual or small group humming “Were You There?” underneath the monologue until the phrase “Lazarus! Come out!”]
Please step back with me to the first Easter morning. [head scarf on]
I awake early. Why do I feel so dreadful? Then I remember—I fell asleep, sobbing. Jesus, our beloved teacher is dead . . . not just dead, but a horrible death—slowly executed . . . in agony, his body ripped and bleeding, on a rough wooden cross . . . like a criminal . . . with other criminals . . . our Master!
Oh, I heard him cry out! How we longed to help him, to ease his pain. All we could do was weep at his feet—those dear feet I once washed and anointed. He praised me for caring more about him than material things, for not waiting until his death to show my love. I’m so glad I did that!
But at that horrid, tearing cross, we women could give him no comfort—just our distant presence. We couldn’t even reach him to wipe away the blood or spittle or give him a drink.
Now, he’s dead . . . and buried. Not even his own tomb—a borrowed one. Oh, it’s a rock, a solid tomb, never used before, but just a last-minute thing, given by a nobleman who secretly loved Jesus too.
There were some grave clothes, some wrappings, some spices, but none of the usual caring preparation. The Sabbath was almost here, you see. All had to be done quickly. We women weren’t allowed to do for our beloved Jesus the things we normally do for any of God’s own chosen people. Jesus, Son of God, ridiculed, killed as a criminal, without a proper burial!
Usually, the Sabbath is one of my favorite days. But this time, it’s been so hard to wait through the whole Sabbath, since we’re not to travel on the holy day. We yearned to go to the tomb to weep.
Remember how we wept for Lazarus when he died? Then Jesus called him out of the tomb, in a voice loud enough to wake the dead:
“Lazarus! Come out!”
He did! Lazarus stumbled out, still wrapped in grave linens, four days after his death! He was freed by Jesus to continue his earthly life. But who can bring Jesus to life? It’s so hopeless. . . . All our exciting dreams. . . dead, with Jesus, in a cold cave. It’s just too much!
Now it’s the first day of the week—almost—still dark. [anticipatory pause]
Now there’s enough light! I’ll go to the tomb. I’ll feel nearer to him if I can sit by the grave. If that big rock weren’t in the doorway, we could go inside with our spices and oils.
So I go to the tomb. [pause]
The rock’s moved over!
Will it never end?
Do they have to steal Jesus’ body as well?
I run to the disciples.
I say, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve laid him!”
You know Peter—always quick to react! He’s up immediately, running to the tomb. John, gentle John, is with him and gaining. I’m slower—I’ve already run—I’m winded. Besides, I’m afraid to look in. What might I see?
John stops at the mouth of the cave, bending down to peer in. There are the linen wrappings from around Jesus’ body. Peter crouches down and goes right in. The cloths that were wrapped around Jesus lie there. The head cloth is neatly rolled, set a little apart. (Strange. . . . Do grave-robbers bother to set things neatly?) John goes in, too. Well, now they believe me! Jesus’ body is gone!
I’ve stayed back, watching. Surely, somehow, someone will help me understand what’s happening! The men, puzzled, leave for home.
I stay, weeping and weeping. What else can I do? I can’t tend a body that isn’t there! Bent over, toward the tomb’s entrance, through tears I see two figures . . . all white . . . sitting on the ledge, where Jesus’ body was . . . one at the head’s place, the other at the feet. I hear them speak to me from there:
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
I answer with pain wrenching my heart.
“They’ve taken away my Lord. I don’t know where they’ve laid him!”
I turn from the grave’s mouth. Someone is standing there. He says the same thing those figures—angels?—did . . . or perhaps he was the one who said it before?
“Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”
Well, the tomb’s in a garden. It’s quite early in the day. I think this must be the gardener, so I say, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you’ve laid him; I will remove him.” How I long to help place Jesus’ body where it’ll be safe from robbers. I’m turned, all ready to go.
Then Jesus says to me. . . .
That’s right! The man is Jesus!—He says, “Mary!” —My name!
As soon as I hear him say my name, I know him. Wonder of wonders!
I turn: “Teacher!”
I want to keep holding on to him, to wipe his feet, to kiss his hands . . . but he’s cautioning me.
“Don’t be afraid. Don’t try to cling to me. I’ve not yet ascended to the Father. Go tell my brothers I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Jesus says, “Go and tell!” So I go!
Now I’ve got Good News to shout!
I’ve seen the Lord! Jesus is alive in a new way! Jesus lives! [remove head scarf]
Message by same person with head scarf removed or by a second person, dressed in today’s clothing.
We’re here now.
What’s the greatest fear human beings must overcome? It seems to be dying. We’re frightened out of our minds about ceasing to be. We do everything we can to deny it. We play games, like using make-up before and after death. (Doesn’t she look well? Or . . . just like she’s asleep?”)
We play other avoidance games, becoming over-involved in activities, overindulging in food, exercise, drink, drugs, sex, books, television, computers, even in church, to dull our fears, numb our minds.
Attempted solutions differ, but this terror has existed since the beginning of recorded time. Some will do anything necessary to gain some sort of earthly immortality. Some push their unwilling children to produce a grandchild, rather than accept the inevitability of death. If we’re governed by the fear of death, we’re not truly alive, even though we’re living.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, people realized something of his power. For some, it brought hope. For others, fear. John’s Lazarus story confronts us with the sight and smell of death. Repellent though it may be, it is important to realize that Lazarus died.
Death’s reality must be grasped, or we cannot appreciate Jesus’ bringing life.
In John we’re shown the need to trust in Jesus, in God’s power and love, to face what all human beings find most threatening.
First, the dead Lazarus was called back to life. He, who had loved and followed Jesus in life, could answer Jesus’ call to return to life. Resuscitated, Lazarus was evidence of God’s glory. Eventually, he’d die again. But in the Lazarus story, at the middle of John’s gospel, there’s a turning point. Something new has begun. In the middle of death, there is life.
Second, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, there isn’t just renewed life, but new life! The risen and rising Jesus is still Jesus, but for hearts darkened by despair and fear, he’s not easily recognized. Notice that Mary has to cry out her need for Jesus before she can recognize him.
We who fear death and try to fool ourselves and others . . . we can gain comfort and strength from Mary’s experiences. We can be un-made. We can be made new again. God has that kind of power. God is that kind of power. Creator and Re-creator.
The only life-giving good news is . . . Jesus Christ.
To the God of Life, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, be all glory. Amen.