Homily preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday of Lent – April 10, 2011
I have a new friend. Our friendship really began over a conversation about dirt. Dirt – and what lies within it.
I’ve missed dirt. Moving from a small house on a lake with an acre of land in Michigan to the west side of Manhattan meant leaving behind shovels, rakes, trowels and dirt – at least the kind of dirt that smells good – that houses worms and warmth.
My new friend has offered to let me putter in her gardens. The first job, of course, is to uncover what lies below the several inches of last fall’s leaves. So a few days ago I dug out my old tennis shoes and jeans and spent some time on my knees – stretching to reach and remove the wet leaves, carefully trying to keep from disturbing the thin white filaments of root material, observing how some of the shoots are already strong enough to poke through the dead leaves. Eventually, some will produce flowers for the mantel and some, vegetables for the table.
I carted several large bags of rotting leaves to the compost pile and I found other things that needed to be thrown into the garbage – some old votive candles from a summer party, bits of tin foil from the grill, shredded rubber dog toys. It’s not surprising that this time of year reminds us that what looks dead actually contains life. That’s the story of gardens – and today, it’s the story of Lazarus.
I imagine that the sadness felt by Mary and Martha and the grief Jesus felt at Lazarus’ death must have been the same kind of sickening pall that destroys our hope as we listen to the news from around the world – or watch while loved ones die. Lazarus’ life was over – his body was bound tightly in cloth bands and entombed in hard rock. His sisters and his friends were devastated, angry – lashing out and questioning the wisdom of Jesus’ itinerary.
As a human being, Jesus was angry too – and he wept. But as the Son of God, Jesus had the ability to see life not only beyond death, but life within death.
Lazarus was dead and yet, Lazarus was alive.
While the climax of this story remains a holy mystery, the dénouement reveals something unambiguous. Lazarus needed to be freed – the bands that held him down, the cloth that kept him unable to move freely needed to be removed. “Unbind him! Let him go!” Jesus commanded.
I find it strange and wonderful that Jesus didn’t take care of the whole situation himself. Rather, he invited those standing around to be a part of this resurrection. Others needed to step up – to face their fear and to continue what Jesus had started.
Again, I think about the garden beds in my friend’s yard. The plants with their transparent and almost ghostly shoots will not thrive while buried in the soggy leaves and debris of last year. When I take my gloves off and carefully push my fingers through to the individual plants, lifting the weight of the dead material from their tender life, I know that they will begin to thrive – to thicken and firm up, to turn green; they will bear flowers and fruit.
If you’re like me, the mud and carnage covering so much of the world right now seems to have nothing in common with the rich fertile soil filling our garden beds. But God has promised new life. God continues to create goodness and beauty – life that will prevail over death. And God invites us to participate in that mystery.
We need to dig our fingers into the dead leaves of our old assumptions and examine them. We need to dismantle our prejudices and put them in garbage bags. We must face our fear and be willing to add our wealth to the world’s compost pile. We may need to forgive – or be forgiven.
Our God promises life. Can we see it? Are we ready to get on our knees and get our hands dirty? May God give us the courage to believe new life is possible. And then may we be willing to touch what has been dead in order to participate in resurrection. Amen.