From the Archives: “Bound Hand and Foot with Graveclothes”

This post from a few years ago, written on the occasion of some other mistakes being corrected without a full apology, seems relevant again today. Also this:
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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. Perfect, Kristine.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Kristine. It’s one of my favorite posts I’ve ever read, and it’s spot on for today.

  3. What I needed right now. Thank you.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Very nice.

  5. LOSE not loose. :)

  6. Another keeper. Printing and adding to my Kristine collection. Thank you.

  7. Thanks, Kristine.

    Anon, LOOSE, not lose :) I have also sometimes been too quick to incorrectly correct. See:

    loose
    transitive verb
    1a :…
    b : to free from restraint

  8. Kristine says:

    Nope, anon–I really meant “loose,” though I guess a more modern word would be “loosen.”

  9. Elizabeth says:

    “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….. 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.” or what we wanted. Forgiveness is hard and sometimes we have to forgive even without the apology we want or deserve. This holds both with individuals and with institutions.

  10. wonderful. profound thoughts.

  11. Billy Possum says:

    What a metaphor! Thanks, Kristine.

  12. Apologies! I read the last para too quickly! How embarrassing! Please forgive me for my haste to correct the grammar. I think I saw “loose ourselves” and automatically expected the phrase “lose ourselves in the service of others.” I let my pet peeve get the better of me. :|

    (Glad I went anon for that one.)

  13. Kristine says:

    Not to worry, anon—I am especially fond of people who care enough about spelling and usage to make public corrections—truly!

  14. This is such an insightful way to see things. I hope it permeates many thoughts today and helps soothe those who feel confused. I love it.

  15. This is a lovely, nuanced commentary on the underlying scripture passage, and I’m grateful for having been enlightened by it. The thing is, as a gay man who used to be Mormon (I don’t consider myself to be Mormon anymore), I am so very exhausted; every single day, I wrestle with suicidal urges and inclinations, feelings of worthlessness and the general sense that I do not belong anywhere — all, sadly, stemming from the Church’s very unabashed, unapologetic positions on LGBTQIA people. It is so very hard to simply wait in hope that someday change will come; and frankly, it’s not fair to expect me and others like me to endure, nor is it safe — LGBTQIA LDS people are five times more likely to commit suicide and/or self harm than non-LDS LGBTQIA or straight LDS people. For our own safety and stability, many of us have had to detach from the Church. And while I remain open if the needed changes ever come to pass, I don’t think I or others like me should be expected to bear the burden of bringing about those changes. We’ve been hurt, damaged, abandoned — all but left for dead on the side of the road. We are victims desperate to be healed, and we deserve acknowledgement of the spiritual injustice we have suffered.

  16. Kristine says:

    Yes, Andy. That’s entirely fair, and I do not believe that you should wait or endure, and it is not your job to bring about changes. I did not mean to direct this meditation at Saints of color in the original instance, nor would I direct it to my LGBTQIA siblings in this instance. This is directed mostly at myself, and other would-be allies–the waiting, enduring, and working is for the rest of us to do, as is binding up your wounds. Part of what I hope this story conveys is the urgency of the work, the necessity for all of us to be creating the miraculous healing we hope for, rather than waiting for God to make everything perfect.

    Besides the lack of clarity about who the audience for my little exegesis was, another problem with this story as metaphor for the policy and its reversal is the way it invokes God–I’m not sure exactly what Jesus had to do with Lazarus’ death or if (as we sometimes hear in Sunday School) he deliberately allowed it to happen for the sake of the miracle to be performed, but I *am* sure that God did not inspire the original policy. I do think God may have been involved in bringing about the reversal of the policy, but I don’t believe for a second that the original policy represents God’s will, nor do I think that the Church’s current teachings on homosexuality are in harmony with what we know of a God who insists that earthly categories like male and female, bond and free, Jew and Greek are meaningless in the eternities.

    I think it’s important for those of us who seek change not to make the same mistakes as we believe church leaders have made–that is, we must not prioritize ideological purity or perfection, orthodoxies of our own over the commandment to be charitable. Charity means extending understanding to everyone whose acts are constrained by limited human understanding, and driven by the insecurities and misunderstandings that are the lot of everyone in a fallen world and an inherited patriarchal system that distorts our human relationships. It isn’t wrong to wish that sincere acknowledgment and apology would happen–they should–but I think it is a mistake to miss the enormous though unspoken act of contrition represented by this reversal because it has been enacted in a broken and distorted institutional context which makes it difficult or impossible for the needed words to be said. I think we can even appreciate the act if it is done reluctantly or resentfully or under some coercion, just as I hope people appreciate the things I do because I know I should, even though I sometimes have the wrong attitude.

  17. Your final two sentences there, Kristine–“It isn’t wrong to wish that sincere acknowledgment and apology would happen–they should–but I think it is a mistake to miss the enormous though unspoken act of contrition represented by this reversal because it has been enacted in a broken and distorted institutional context which makes it difficult or impossible for the needed words to be said. I think we can even appreciate the act if it is done reluctantly or resentfully or under some coercion, just as I hope people appreciate the things I do because I know I should, even though I sometimes have the wrong attitude.”–are profoundly humble and profoundly wise. Thanks for saying them.