Life and FaithSalvationTheology & Spirituality

What is Your Grave?

About an hour into a conversation with a friend, we began discussing the death of Lazarus and Jesus weeping with Mary. Jesus had purposely waited to come to his friends that he might glorify the Father through the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus said to Martha, “I myself am the resurrection and the life.” He knew he was about to push death right out of a man, to make him what he should be: fully alive. He knew, and still, when Mary ran to meet him, trailing mourners and friends and tears, his anger was roused and he wept.

Everyone who saw Jesus weep said, “Look how much He loved him”—but Jesus was about to return Lazarus to life, he was not distraught because he would not see Lazarus again. No, he was angry when he saw how upset and sorrowed Mary and the others were. He was angry because death was not part of the world he had formed. Death had come to steal life, joy, and fellowship away. Death was hurting his belovéd friends—and so he wept at the brokenness, at the pain suffered by his friends. And then he stood there and called Lazarus to come forth, to live and breathe as he was made to.

At this point, my friend asked me: “What grave are you standing next to?” The question struck a chord that is still vibrating within me, as some weeks before, another friend had asked something similar, “What in us needs to die so that God can bring his life into us?” Perhaps having thought on that question already prepared me a bit for the second conversation. I confess that it takes God bringing something to my attention quite a few times before I really give it the thought it deserves.

A few weeks after these conversations, John 11 was my morning reading. I’m not sure I had ever noticed before that Jesus wept out of sorrow for Mary but also out of anger. Death is not the way it is supposed to be—and Jesus knew that, knew that one day death would be swallowed up by life, like you swallow a poppyseed. You are so much bigger than a seed, more complex in your biological life, and greater than it in every way. Life is like that when it swallows death. Death only exists as the privation of life, of something God made good. Any sin or evil is only ever a twisting of something God made good.

When I thought about Jesus standing next to Lazarus’s grave and calling him to come forth, I realised that Jesus was calling Lazarus back to what was good: life. Much like the man in The Great Divorce with the lizard of lust upon his shoulder. Again and again the solid person asked if he could kill the lizard and the man whined, promised his pet sin would be very good now, even begged not to have it killed because that would kill him. But in the end, when he cried out that yes, the solid person could kill the lizard, he did not die. The lizard itself was restored, or reformed into something good, a stallion. It was such a warping of the good thing God had made that it seemed impossible that such a magnificent creature could have ever been shrivelled and degraded into a lizard.

At the grave, Jesus turned death into life. He redeemed the Fall and its consequences. He remade the fragmented, and he continues to do so in our lives. When I think about what needs to die in me I find that the grave must be my own. I need Jesus to be standing next to the grave of me and my selfishness. It is always myself at the root of my sin—whether it is lack of compassion or sacrifice; or if it is self-righteousness and self-consciousness; or even if it is my “good” efforts. I need to die so that I can be raised to new, abundant life in and from Jesus. He made me to be fully alive, fully—unfallen—human. I need the resurrection, the resuscitation, the breath of the Spirit animating me and keeping me alive.

What grave are you standing beside?

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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