Dinner with Lazarus: meditation for Good Friday, by Jessica Martin
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. (John 12.1-2)
We meet here between two resurrections. As Passiontide began, Lazarus was raised. We look towards the time that Jesus, in the power of God, was raised. This is the time of Passion, set apart for suffering. Between the resurrections which mark the time of the Passion will lie the long process of a death.
The death of Lazarus is undescribed in Scripture. His last breath is drawn outside John’s narrative, while Jesus himself delays outside Judaea. But, then, Jesus’s resurrection is undescribed too. We do not see God breathe again within his Son and are not shown how he shook off the graveclothes so carefully folded. We do not see anyone roll away the stone. So the Scripture shows Jesus die, and Lazarus recalled to life.
Did he care to be recalled to life? I don’t know. That is where we start, today, through Lazarus’s mortal perspective, marking the contrast between the sign of Lazarus which marks Passiontide and the unique act of the Son of God endured on this Good Friday. We start now by remembering the human story each of us read and thought about at the beginning of this Passion season - the story of someone’s brother, who died. He died without choosing to or intending to; the circumstance which ended him was random. He died because that’s what happens to people.
Lazarus dies in multifarious ways; stammering a loop of two or three words forced out from a mouth and throat unable to swallow; suddenly struck down with a brain event until one side of the face drops and the mask falls over the mobile features; drowning in fluid in the lungs; stabbed in a pointless quarrel in a car park or crushed by a mobile load of wheeled metal driven by a tired man; briefly dizzy with an embolism or overcome by a virus or finally choked by the selfish multiplication of rogue cells. Every way it comes, he dies. His sisters watch helpless.
There: the Eucharist, a gold sun,
hung in the air — an instant of splendour.
Here nothing should be heard but the Greek syllables —
the whole world held in the hands like a plain apple.
The solemn height of the holy office; the light
of July in the rotunda under the cupola;
so that we may sigh from full hearts, outside time,
for that little meadow where time does not flow.
And the Eucharist spreads like an eternal noon;
all partake of it, everyone plays and sings,
and in each one’s eyes the sacred vessel
brims over with inexhaustible joy.
Osip Mandelstam. Untitled poem from Tristia (1922), translated from the Russian by Clarence Brown and W S Merwin, in Selected Poems (1973)
'Can You Say the Creed (And Still Call Your Soul Your Own)?': talk by me at the Mockingbird NYC conference, 4 April
Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins - more certain than Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Anne Coulter…
As measured here by Jonathan Haidt, based on a count of the relative frequency of their use, in their best known books, of ‘certainty-related words’ including ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘certainly’, ‘every’ and ‘undeniable’.
Disputes with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity, superior to the rest of mankind. The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence, in inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.
P J Harvey and Thom Yorke, ‘The Mess We’re In’ from Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
In honour of the Mockingbird conference, NYC, 3-5 April. And, of course, the mess we’re all in.