“Bound Hand and Foot with Graveclothes”

Everyone knows where to find the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” And maybe because it’s an easy verse to memorize, maybe because it is in the middle of a dramatic story, and maybe because it is possibly the densest theological phrase in all of scripture, I’ve returned to it, and to the rest of John 11 over and over in my life and in my thinking. There’s a detail, though, that I hadn’t noticed until this year, that makes the story speak to me in lovely new ways.

We know the prologue of the story well. Jesus receives word from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus is very sick. And, despite the fact that “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus,” he waits for two whole days before going to be with them. He tells his disciples before they leave Jerusalem that Lazarus has already died. When he finally gets to Bethany, Martha and then Mary lament, and perhaps even accuse Jesus: “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Jesus responds to Martha by affirming her faith in the resurrection, and trying to explain what he will do. He responds to Mary simply by weeping with her. And then he enters the tomb and commands Lazarus’ already-rotting and putrid body to be filled again with life.

It is the moments just after Lazarus’ unlikely rising that I want to pay careful attention to:

And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.

But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

I had never noticed before last Easter that Lazarus comes out of the tomb still “bound hand and foot with graveclothes.” He is not radiantly restored to life; he must have been a terrifying spectre. Jesus leaves it to those who believe to finish the miracle–to unbind their brother and be the ones who “let him go” by bidding him come back to them. God’s healing work was finished, but Lazarus could not be restored to life until those witnesses who “believed on” Jesus caught a glimpse of the life He came to offer, overcame their squeamishness and even their religious conviction that having anything to do with the dead was taboo, and went to work bringing Lazarus fully back into their communal life, which would be transformed forever by his return.

There’s a danger, of course, in drawing the parallels too closely, but I think there might be something for us to learn from this story in figuring out how we ought to respond to the remarkable statement on race  and priesthood posted at lds.org. Strangely (to me, at least) it has been my friends who consider themselves most progressive who have been a little bit like those who “went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done”–they’ve not wanted to let go of their idea of what rebirth ought to look like, they’ve wanted the statement to emerge from the tomb of the COB (sorry, couldn’t resist ;)) without the graveclothes of institutional inertia and bureaucratic caution. They are eager (as I am, and as we all must be) for the process of healing to be complete, the vision of a less racist future for the Church given to us in the form we would recognize most readily and celebrate most gladly.

It seems to me, though, that it almost never works that way. And perhaps it shouldn’t. We think we know what Jesus should do, both before and after Lazarus dies. We believe he can heal us and our loved ones, and we want him to do it when we feel most desperate. Like Martha, we want Jesus to be our fairy godmother, trusting that “whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.”  And yet, he seems sometimes not to reward our faith, our righteous longing. Instead, he waits and weeps with us, “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” Our reward is in being invited to collaborate in the miracle.

Racism is a terrible, grievous sin that might have killed the Church, and that still has deadly force in the world and in us if we do not relentlessly root it out. We are called to loose ourselves and our brothers and sisters from its graveclothes, and from other sins that bind us–sexism and homophobia, to name a couple of obvious examples. But there are other deadly sins as well–so many ways we can refuse grace, or fail to see it when it is given, and go away sorrowing because we do not see what we expected. Unbinding ourselves and each other is difficult work, sometimes frightening, sometimes tedious. Maybe this is why we celebrate Christmas as well as Easter; we are reminded, over and over again, that God’s glory is revealed in the messy human process of birth; we have to learn to be midwives as the glory of God is revealed.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    God bless you, Kristine.

  2. I thank God for you, Kristine.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    I love this perspective. Thank you.

  4. Latter-day Guy says:

    Beautiful, beautiful.

  5. Oh my, beautiful.

  6. Perfect! Thank you, Kristine!

  7. Noel Carmack says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you, Kristine.

  8. I am keeping this one. Kristine – Thank you. On so many levels we need to remember how many miracles we still need to be apart of.

  9. Thank you, Kristine, for this gift. I never would have made that connection, and it is a beautiful, profound one.

  10. Thank you, Kristine.

  11. A lovely perspective.

  12. Cheryl McGuire says:

    Kristine,
    Well said, and so worth thinking about. I think when the gift comes, we need to accept it, and move forward. I do think the piece on LDS.org gives us clean air to breathe, and we need to breathe it. Then, stepping out of those bindings, we can keep on.

    I do want to mention, as a side note, that I have always loved John 11 because the Lord tells the doctrine of the resurrection directly to Martha. Poor maligned Martha, who did not choose “the better way” in the story of Mary and Martha. Here she is the radiant one. She is the one that gets the doctrine FACE TO FACE, not through someone else, not through another man, for instance. And she is the one that says, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

    So much there in John 11. I LOVE THAT CHAPTER. And you have given me another reason to do so. i’m going to read and teach that binding/unbinding episode like you have written, from now on.

    Cheryl

  13. Kristine, your insight and your poetic prose is invaluable to our community. I hope you truly know that.

  14. Fine lace in prose.

  15. Jesus never apologized for letting Lazarus die, but Martha didn’t continually and forever hate him for not apologizing — she simply accepted the wonderful gift and rejoiced in it.

  16. Thanks Kristine. I will share with my ward brothers and sisters this thought.

  17. Kristine: Very helpful. Brings to mind the line, “Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me.”

  18. As always, your thinking and thoughts are amazing in their clarity and their insight. Thank you.

  19. I love the idea of Christmas as birth and Easter as rebirth. I suppose I didn’t really think of it in just those terms before, as relates to our own conversion process: our initial birth into the community of believers at baptism, and our continual need for rebirth through repentance.

  20. Cheryl, I love that about this interaction with Martha, too–I love that both sisters become dimensional characters, not just types.

    I also love that when John tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus apparently takes off his own burial clothes AND PUTS THEM AWAY NEATLY HIMSELF!! (“And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.”) I keep telling my kids he is our examplar in this as in all things :)

  21. A Benedictine nun once told me that she spent a six-week retreat exclusively meditating on a fresco of Lazarus emerging and the phrase, “Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” She said it became the spiritual heart of her work as a healer. I’m not sure I’ve ever given a single scripture such attention, but I’m sure I’d be better for it if I did.

  22. I like the poetry of this post. I love Kristine’s work in general! I love the new message and context from the church on the subject of race and priesthood. All this said, I also have a hard time with the kind of thinking from Ji’s comment – “Jesus never apologized for letting Lazarus die, but Martha didn’t continually and forever hate him for not apologizing — she simply accepted the wonderful gift and rejoiced in it.”

    I agree Martha saw Jesus doing Jesus’ work and recognized it and rejoiced in it. If we liken her response to the blacks and priesthood web clarification (Ji’s comment urges us to do so) then we are left looking back on the civil rights movement and the many Southern Baptists who understood the Lord’s will better than His prophets. These coreligionists led on the issue because of their faith when we lacked it. They lived and suffered for the truth and some died to defend that truth/faith. They helped to raise and unwrap Lazarus without aid and influence from Jesus’ true and living church.

    Put another way, if I live now, in Martha’s time or some other time, it matters not. I must discern the Lord and His servants by the spirit and works they bring. And for a really painful long time, his servants in the LDS church screwed up something major while other Christians got it very right. This pangs my Mormon heart. If we must liken the scriptures to the current situation to make ourselves feel better maybe we should consider ourselves the people who passed by the man laying injured by the side of the road. Until we repent of that, pardon me if I don’t feel inspired to rejoice with the Samaritan and the man he saved.

    As for Kristine’s original post.. Yep. I agree. We’ve got a lot more work to do before we see Lazarus alive with our own eyes. Lots!

  23. So let us begin the unbinding at this season of Christmas. There is no better time. Wise thoughts, Kristine. Thank you for this.

  24. I really enjoy this. Great work drawing on scriptural analogy on a site of which I’m often critical (but still enjoy).

    Of course the unanswered question is, was it never the will of God that Lazarus died the first time? Was it an aberration to the plan that needed correcting (did Jesus’ healing show that God got it wrong by permitting this faithful one to die in the first place?)?
    ,
    We are so inadequate to judge, and I just assume to place my faith in the prophets, ancient and modern. Spotting areas where they are wrong,or where we presume they’re wrong, serves a very limited purpose .

  25. “Spotting areas where they are wrong,or where we presume they’re wrong, serves a very limited purpose.”

    Perhaps, but if the wrong area keeps people from full fellowship in the Church, that “limited purpose” is critical – even, I would say, limitless in an important way. If there was something that was used to keep me from attending the temple, I think it would feel less limited than it would if it didn’t make such a radical difference in my life.

  26. *If there was something that was used improperly to keep me from attending the temple*

  27. Thanks Kristine. I am putting this one with the “Bearing One Another’s Joys” in the list of writing that has caught me up short and made me see my spiritual world differently.

  28. I think you mean this one, rah. It is well worth a first or second or thirteenth read:

    I Pray Thee . . . Bear My Joy a While” (http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/09/29/i-pray-you-bear-my-joy-awhile/)

  29. “We think we know what Jesus should do, both before and after Lazarus dies. We believe he can heal us and our loved ones, and we want him to do it when we feel most desperate….And yet, he seems sometimes not to reward our faith, our righteous longing. Instead, he waits and weeps with us, “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” Our reward is in being invited to collaborate in the miracle.”

    I so needed this message on this particular morning. What a blessing you are, Kristine, and all your co-collaborators. I can’t count the number of times that your collective writings have reached deep into my heart. Thank you.

  30. This. Thank you. I hope your words go Mormon-viral :)

  31. This is a wonderful image for our (no, take ownership, MY) responsibility to follow through on the blessings and opportunities the Lord provides. Some posts I like because of the comments that follow. Others because of the unposted thoughts they provoke in my head. For me, this one falls into the latter category. Thanks, Kristine.

  32. Paul Reeve says:

    Kristine, thank you. A little grace goes a long way.

  33. Actually, I like what ji says above. We still don’t know all the answers about why the priesthood restriction was put in place in the first place or why it lasted as long as it did; and I’m pretty sure we won’t know those answers until God himself — whose priesthood it is — tells us. Otherwise, we’re all just speculating. The important thing is that it was removed. We need to rejoice in that (as I did when the restriction was removed) and go on with life — ALL of us — and stop trying to second guess our leaders — then and now!

  34. This is stunning, beautiful, and someday I hope you publish a book with all your essays. Thank you, thank you.

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