a participatory tale of unbinding

Guest post by Linda Swanson, Member Care Provider and Spiritual Director at Paraclete Mission Group. To see more posts by Linda check out her blog site: Journey in Process

One of the ways I sit with scripture is to ask a question you may also ask, “Where do I see myself in this passage?” Recently, I was surprised to see myself in each  character’s life.

The story
In John 11, we read the tragic and miraculous story about Lazarus’ illness, death and resurrection. There is so much in this short chapter that I’ve not been able to move past it in my reading of John since mid-December. It keeps drawing me back to ask more questions. Asking where I saw myself was the question that needed the most time to ponder.

Lazarus, known to be deeply loved by Jesus was sick so his sisters wrote to Jesus with confidence that He would come. He didn’t. Instead, Jesus delayed his trip to be with them until Lazarus had died.

In John 11:14-15 Jesus said, “Lazarus died, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let’s go to him.” This is so important to notice. Jesus didn’t do what the sisters asked Him to do so that His followers might believe. There was a purpose in the “wait,” “not yet,” “no.” There is purpose when He asks us to wait, when He tells us, “not yet,” or, “no.” 

Martha heard that Jesus had arrived and went out to meet Him. Mary came later after her sister urged her to go to Jesus. With both women, Jesus was present to them, attentive as He listened, empathetic as He wept. He didn’t rush their grief or explain it away. While He gently speaks words of encouragement and challenge to them, Jesus didn’t say, “Just wait, the best is yet to come.” He let them grieve and was present as a participant in their grief. As we’ve grieved since our Kelly’s death on 12/31, this has been so comforting to me.

Next, Jesus prayed out loud, so everyone could hear Him and know He was praying to His Father and that His Father heard His prayers. Then, He called Lazarus out of the tomb. And, miraculously, Lazarus came out of the tomb!

It was amazing. Yet, he was still in the grave cloths. Martha had been worried there would be a death stench and we don’t know if there was or not. We don’t know what those grave cloths were like. Had they matted together from a mixture of perfumes, spices and oils as well as death’s body fluids? Had they become crusty like a cast?

Jesus didn’t free Lazarus from the grave cloths. He freed him from death but not the trappings of death. Instead, He told Mary and Martha, and possibly others, to, “unbind him, let him go.” Lazarus could not bring himself from death to life- nor could he free himself from death’s clothes. He needed His sisters’ help.

The characters
Lazarus, the beloved, the sick one who died and then was brought to life. Everything happened to him.

Martha, the one we know is a good home manager, a capable woman, who seemed to move past her grief to do what needed to be done.

Mary, the one whose huge heart of love often caused her to be still, extravagant. I wonder if she loved Jesus so much and felt so loved by Him that when He came she didn’t go to Him because she didn’t want to look into His compassionate eyes for fear she would fall into a million zillion pieces if she saw His sorrow.

The task
Unbind Him

Lazarus was helpless to unbind himself though he was alive.

Martha and Mary were tasked to get close to what looked like death, maybe smelled and felt like death. It might have been a very messy job even as it was hope and joy filled.

My reflections

I can see myself as Martha, the one who steels herself to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. I can see myself as Mary who knows if she looks into Jesus’ compassionate eyes of love she may fall apart. I see parts of myself that are the messy signs of death in me; the lies I believe, the habits that bind me, the perspectives that entrap me, the wounds that haunt me, feelings of anxiety. There is much for me to be freed from.

I hear Jesus say to the Martha and Mary in me, “You live! You are alive! Now, unbind the death clothes, let yourself go free. You have been given life!”

During these last 2-3 weeks, I’ve been looking for the Mary and Martha in me and identifying the death cloths and asking Jesus to help me unbind myself and go free from what has bound me in the past. I’ve been wondering what my role is in unbinding myself from death. What work is required? What prayers am I invited to pray?  It’s been a wonderful gift of process and reflection at the beginning of this new year, during a time of grief for our family and for our country.

Your reflections
I invite you to join me in reading this story over and over again, slowly, prayerfully. Let it sink into your imagination and soul. What do you see, hear, feel? What invitations do you notice? Who are you in this story? Where do you see yourself? What invitations of unbinding do you discover?

a participatory tale of unbinding

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