Life Transformed by Death
The Experience of Lazarus (a first person account)
Jesus was a friend of the family.
I was ill and we sensed that the illness might be terminal.
Getting in touch with one’s nearest and dearest,
seemed the obvious thing for my sisters to do at this point.
Given the reputation Jesus had for healing,
the hope of a cure was not beyond our expectation.
On hearing the message, Jesus’ reaction, however
was reminiscent of his response to his mother’s request
at the wedding feast in Cana.
“This is no concern of mine,
My hour has not yet come.” 1
”This illness is not to end in death;
through it God’s glory is to be revealed.”
Yet, though he loved us dearly,
he delayed coming to visit us by two days. 2
What happens next?
The last thing I remember as my eyes grew weary
was a feeling of disappointment, being let down,
and what is worse,
being told that this was meant to be
the prelude to the spectacular.
Fine way to console a dying man!
I breathed what I thought was my last breath
leaving the others to hold theirs,
whether in joyful anticipation or eerie suspense, I do not know.
Holding one’s breath is often the prelude to a sigh of relief.
Little do we realise that it is akin to
entering the silence, that pause
between the inhalation and exhalation of God
that continually renews and restores creation.
I was about to enter it, but not totally unware.
The terminally ill sense they are approaching
this period of transition, this ‘Passover’.
The bystanders, however, invariably wish
that this moment, this ‘kairos’ be postponed.
Death is the abstraction we fear.
Bringing into this silence all one’s memories,
everything and everyone that one must leave behind,
possessions as well as relationships,
one’s accomplishments, as well as failures,
particularly the reconciliation and hoped for closure
that one was not privy to experience in one’s lifetime,
we experience inner peace, watching them pass by
with a sense of acceptance, and no desire
to either hold on to the good,
or accelerate the unfinished business
in a last burst of energy as one nears the finish line.
In that moment is revealed the Reality of the God who IS.
beyond our imagination, beyond thought, beyond words,
in whom we live, move and have our being.3
The fear of darkness ebbs away
as the LIGHT exposes its non-existence in its presence.
The emptiness that sadness brings is transformed
into the fullness of the joy of finding oneself;
loneliness gives way to communion.
But many of those who watch, stand by, uncomprehending.
“Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something to keep me from dying?” 4
Death is an event in LIFE.
Dying on the other hand is a process
woven into the very fabric of life itself.
Now, having journeyed back into life in time,
I know that events in sacred time
have an existence beyond chronological time.
The Death-Resurrection phenomenon must of necessity, however,
unfold itself over a period of time.
The events of my life and death became a kind of sacrament.
The kenosis, the self-emptying of Jesus
accomplished once and for all in sacred time
would manifest itself
over a period of three days in chronological time.
But only so that we might understand
that it takes place every time we enter that silence,
that pause between the inhalation and exhalation
of the breath of God beyond time itself.
Physical death is not necessary for us to experience it.
It takes place when we choose to pay attention in time
to the Reality of God’s presence within us beyond time.
For my sisters and friends, I was alive once more,
but the happy ending of this episode is not so much
being able to hold once again what we were afraid to lose,
but rather our freedom to give it away at any time
without a sense of loss.
With no ‘self’ to bemoan our loss, we begin to have life
and to have it in all its fullness.5