It’s good to be in the light, to be out in the open. But there is a bit of comfort to being in darkness, in the tomb like Lazarus. Because in the tomb, you know the landscape. You know the grooves and folds of the rocks, you can pace the space, and know its size and depth. In the tomb, you know what is there — darkness and silence and cold stone. And you are held tightly in your pain, sadness and grief. There is some comfort in the darkness and in the confinement. It’s just you and your hurt and sadness there in that tomb.
But Jesus had the stone removed, and called into the tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” And he told the crowd of people, after raising Lazarus, “Unbind him and let him go.”
In his conversation with Martha, Jesus asked her if she believed that Lazarus would rise again. Martha did, but not in the way Jesus was talking about. She believed in the resurrection of the dead, this notion that at some point in time all the Jewish ancestors would come out of their graves and be reunited. But this was not what Jesus was talking about here. Jesus was talking about something more immediate. And Jesus said to her — Martha, I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes this, even though they die, they will live. Martha, do you believe this? And Martha believed.
Mary, hearing that Martha had met with Jesus, ran out to him, and said one of the most human things in this text, “Jesus if you had been here, our brother would still be alive.” She knew that Jesus could have prevented this. Even in her accusation, she knew who Jesus was, and what he was capable of. Even in her accusation, she was declaring him to be the resurrection and the life.
And Jesus was moved by these words from Mary, and he went to the tomb where friends and family were gathered, crying together. And Jesus asked the stone to be rolled away. And as the stench from the body filled their nostrils, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. And when Lazarus came out, Jesus called to those around him, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Jesus is doing the resurrection, but that is not the end of the story. The crowd is called to do the unbinding.
Unbind him and let him go.
Resurrection is the I AM. It is God with us. It is the spirit breathing new life into us. And it is here in this body that we take the next steps with that gift we have been given — we do the unbinding. We do the releasing. We share in the joy of releasing each other from oppressive systems, from outdated institutions, from broken destructive relationships, from power structures that no longer need to have power over us. We play a part in what comes next. We unbind. We set free.
As oppressive as the tomb may be, it can feel safer than the uncertainty of being unbound. The darkness and solitude is predictable, and no one can hurt us in the tomb. But this is not the life to which we have been called. This is not why God came to us in human form. God came to us to breathe life into us, to give us hope, to show us resurrection.
And Jesus went to the tomb, had the stone removed, and called out to his friend, “Arise — come out!” And when his friend had left the safety of the tomb, Jesus said to the community, “Unbind him and let him go. Unbind her and let her go. Fear and death no longer have power in this place.” And the community gathered around their resurrected friends, released them from their burial shroud, embraced them, paying no mind to the smell of confinement, and rejoiced with them for the new life they had experienced that day.
Amy Yoder McGloughlin is the pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church. This is adapted from a sermon she gave based on John 11: 1-45 and Ezekiel 37:1-14.