Lazarus

He is still wrapped in burial clothes as he exits the tomb.  He sees the world come back to life around him through strips of cloth that are white and loosely woven.  The faces around him are ghostly, as if they were wrapped in gauze.  There is a one thick thread cutting across his vision.  It makes him think of Martha, his efficient sister, the spinner of competent threads.  As soon as he thinks of her, he hears her.  He hears her voice, saying his name, but there’s something odd about the way she says it – its choked with tears at either end.  “Lazarus.  Lazarus.”  And he hears Mary’s louder, more emotive weeping.  Hands are touching his face, pulling away the burial wrappings.  He wonders who it is, who could be brave enough to do it.

Once he found a dead man beside the road.  He dug a hole in the earth, yards away from where the body was lying, and even the act of digging made him feel a little sick.  He didn’t know if he could bring himself to touch the body.  It was unclean.  It would make him unclean for seven days, and he would have to purify himself with water on the third and seventh days.  But he knew that he couldn’t leave the man to the birds and the scavenging beasts, that it would be an act of charity, to touch the dead.

The person who touches him now isn’t concerned with uncleanliness.  Maybe it’s Martha or Mary.  They would be unclean already, from having had to prepare his body for burial.  But he doesn’t think so.  These hands feel different, somehow.  They don’t tremble or shake.  They aren’t the hands of someone who is weeping.  But when the gauze is pulled away, the first thing he sees is tears.  Tears against sun-weathered skin.  He concentrates on them because there is too much light.  It comes pouring in, drowning his vision and shifting even the tears out of focus.  But a voice speaks and he knows who has unwrapped him.  “Take off the grave clothes and let him go,” the voice says, and he feels other hands, touching his arms and shoulders, his waist and ankles, pulling away the bands of cloth.

Everyone wants to know what it was like to be in the grave.  Did he travel to the land of the dead?  Did he see their pallid faces?  They tell him that Sheol is a gray place, a place of wanting.  That the dead stand in pits with uplifted faces, that their faces look like they’ve been molded out of wet clay.  He tells them that he doesn’t remember what it was like to be dead, and he doesn’t.  But because of their stories, he begins to picture the faces as they say they should look, dark and gray and waiting.  He doesn’t remember sights or sounds, only a terrible numbness, and because of this, he imagines the faces as numb.  Not longing for anything, not waiting for anything, not looking at anything.  That is what he wants to forget.

He never wants to feel that numbness again.  When he is entirely unwrapped, he sits by himself on a stone and looks at the sunlight on the skin of his arm.  His sisters cleaned him well before burying him.  His skin looks virgin, like an infant’s skin, pale brown in the heavy sun.  He lifts his eyes and watches the way in which the sunlight makes dense shadows fall from rocks and feet and scrub bushes.  Heavy shadows against the light tan ground.  People are pressing food at him.  He sees white dust against the sheen of grape skins, and flour dusting flat pieces of bread.  He isn’t ready to eat yet.  He’s surprised that they’re not afraid of him, that they’re not standing at a distance, but pressing close, and he knows that it is because of Jesus.  If he had come walking from his grave under his own power, he would have been accursed.  Children would have run from him, women would have screamed and fled.  It’s because they know the reason for his new life that they want to touch his bare arms, to press cups of watered wine into his thin hands.

But he feels the fear that they seem incapable of.  He looks for Jesus’s face in the crowd, but he sees Mary first, moving along the fringe of the press of people.  He tries to stand.  Immediately Martha is by his side, asserting order.  “He doesn’t want the food,” she says.  “Thank you, but he doesn’t want it.  Give him room.”  They stand aside for him, although some can’t keep themselves from reaching out to touch him.  Martha walks beside him, echoing his slow step, but she doesn’t touch him, and he realizes that she feels the way he feels, afraid and uncertain of the miracle.  Mary’s face bobs up in front of them.  She is smiling and holding a crown of flowers.  He gasps when he sees it.  Tiny flowers with open faces, white and red.  She lifts it to put it on him, but he jerks his head away.

Then Jesus is there, taking his hand.  His grip is strong and leading, and as they walk he keeps his face down, as if his mind is elsewhere.  His eyes are unfocused,  as if unaware of the adulation of the crowd.  The crowd keeps gathering.  Children run through its fringes.  All of Bethany has come out into the street.

Then they are ducking through a doorway, entering a cool, shadowy room, and he looks up and understands that he is home.  Martha has gotten there ahead of them, and is already laying out a clean tunic for him.  She has taken it out of a trunk, and he realizes that she has packed away all of his possessions, that her efficiency emptied the house of him, even as she mourned.  He sits on a carpet and Jesus sits beside him.  The other disciples crowd in.  Light falls into the room from a high window, and he remembers being a boy and standing on top of stacked boxes to gaze out of that window.  Nothing had been preventing him from going outside, but he had wanted to see the world from the window, to see if it looked different from that vantage point.  He eats food when Jesus hands it to him.  He glances at the faces of the disciples, and sees their wonderment, and realizes that now he is different to them, that he won’t be able to just sit and listen and be part of the crowd.  “He wept for you,” Andrew tells him, and that fact seems as amazing to Andrew as the resurrection itself.  Lazarus turns and looks at Jesus, who has raised his head and is listening to the sounds of the crowd through the open window.  And Lazarus thinks, ‘I didn’t know that he loved me that much.  That he would weep for me.’

He finds that he can’t stand to be far from Jesus’s side.  Thomas implies that the world is dangerous for him now in a way that it wasn’t before.  “The pharisees are talking about you to the chief priests,” he says, and smiles, because Thomas wants a fight with the pharisees as soon as possible.  But Lazarus isn’t worried about the danger.  He is trying to understand why Jesus raised him, and why Jesus wept.

He asks Martha about it and she says, “He was late in coming here.  We sent word to him when you got sick.  You remember that, don’t you?  Do you remember how we waited, how we prayed that he would come?  But he didn’t.  They say that he told the disciples that God would be glorified through you.”  And now Martha’s hands begin to shake as she straightens the room.  “And He is, Lazarus.  Your being here is a sign from God.”

He wakes in the night and hears the disciples talking.  Word has reached them that the Sanhedrin has met, and that Caiaphas and the other chief priests are planning to murder Jesus.  Jesus sits quietly and looks at the ground.  He lets them talk.  He lets them make decisions.  They will go the Ephraim, where they can hide and be safe.  Lazarus wants to go with them.  He knows that he will always be safe when he’s in Jesus’s company, near to Jesus’s love.  Martha wants him to stay.  Mary wants to go with him.  He goes, and Mary stays.

He is always by Jesus’s side.  When he feels nervous, he reaches out and touches Jesus’s clothing.  He thinks that he can remember more of what it was like to die.  That gradual unmooring, that slipping away.  He wants Jesus to anchor him to this world.  But Jesus’s gaze lifts to more distant horizons.  It is a dark time in Ephraim.  The winter is long.  There are only twelve hours of daylight.  The Passover is growing near.

Six days before the feast in Jerusalem, Jesus tells the disciples that they are going back to Bethany.  He says it while looking at Lazarus, giving him a little smile, as if Bethany still means anything to Lazarus, as if he cares about any particular place.  He doesn’t care about Bethany.  Its safety, its familiarity, are empty things to him now.  Only in Jesus is there safety.  He’s sure of it.  Jesus will keep him safe.  Jesus cried for him, and raised him from the grave.  The disciples murmur and worry, afraid that Jesus will suffer in Jerusalem.  But Lazarus knows that he won’t.  Jesus will keep himself safe out of love of Lazarus.  He will keep himself safe so that he can keep Lazarus safe.

They return to Bethany in the late afternoon, and it is as if Martha and Mary have been expecting them.  Perhaps Jesus told them that he would come back on this day.  Martha has prepared a feast, and Mary flits around the room, speaking quietly to the disciples, a secretive smile on her face.  They recline on rugs to eat, sharing the dishes that Martha has made, splitting the bread between them.  Near the end of the meal Mary emerges from the shadows, carrying a small box.  She kneels in front of Jesus and he watches her quietly, waiting.  Lazarus reaches out and touches his sleeve, hoping to have a share in his sense of calm, his obvious peace.  She opens the box and, smiling, turns it over.  Oil washes out of it and over Jesus’s feet.  The smell of nard fills the house.  Lazarus gasps with the others.  Where did she get it?  Nothing of its value has ever been in the house.  She bends over his feet and begins to move her hair back and forth, taking it in her hands, scrubbing at his skin with it, and the oil shines on her dark locks.

Judas is angry.  “Gifts like that should be sold,” he says.

But Jesus says, “Leave her alone.  It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

Lazarus feels his breath go out of him.  The day of Jesus’s burial?  Is this it?  He glances quickly around at the shadows, looking for assassins.  But then he catches Jesus’s eye, and sees Jesus’s reassuring smile.  ‘No,’ that smile says.  ‘Do not be afraid.  I am with you.’  And Lazarus relaxes, reassured.  Jesus won’t die.  And if he won’t die, then Lazarus won’t die.  He will be kept safe.

There are crowds gathering outside of the house.  Thomas reminds the people inside that crowds mean danger.  There are spies from the Sanhedrin in those crowds.  Jesus turns to Andrew and Philip and gives them special instructions.  They leave, carrying the smell of nard with them into the night.

Its scent follows all of them when they leave the house in the morning.  Andrew and Philip are waiting in the predawn light.  Andrew holds the bridle of a young colt.  The crowd hasn’t dissipated in the night.  They are sleeping on the ground, leaning against the walls of the houses.  They stir and begin to stand as Jesus emerges.  He places a hand on Lazarus’s shoulder and steadies himself as he swings up onto the back of the colt.  Andrew hands the bridle to Lazarus.  The smell of nard dissipates slowly in the cool air as they walk towards Jerusalem.  It spreads out among the crowds who walk and murmur beside them.

As they come nearer to the city, the crowds grow and line the way.  People are carrying palm branches, waving them in the air.  They shout loud hosannas.  Their faces are strange to Lazarus.  Everywhere he looks, people have their faces raised and are staring up at Jesus.  Small children have climbed into the trees.  Lazarus clutches the bridle.  It’s alive in his hand, connecting him to Jesus on the colt.

Philip is walking beside him.  “Why are they all here?” he whispers.

Philip looks at him strangely.  “Because of you,” he says.  “Because they heard that he raised you.”

‘But,’ Lazarus thinks, ‘I don’t want them here.  This isn’t for them.  This is only for us, for those who really love him.’

Jesus spends the day sitting on a raised platform in the Court of the Gentiles, teaching.  Lazarus stands by his side, watching the faces of the people who come to speak with him.  He feels them pressing all around the cluster of disciples.  He feels their weight on his shoulders.  He feels bound by it, as rigidly bound as he was when he first came from the grave.  He doesn’t know how Jesus can bear it.  When he feels the weight grow to much, he reaches out and touches Jesus’s shoulder.  And the weight lifts, the smell of nard comes back into his nostrils.

At the end of the day, Jesus goes off by himself.  Lazarus follows and sits at a distance.  He watches Jesus kneel and pray, and he sees the tiredness of Jesus’s face, and knows that Jesus, too, bore the weight of the pressing crowds.  But as he prays, the weight seems to lift, the tiredness to lighten and fade.  And the next day he is back with the crowds, speaking and listening to them, walking about the temple.  He argues with scribes and pharisees when they approach, but always gently, as if more saddened by their arguments then angered by them.  This goes on for three days.

On the day before the passover, Jesus leads his followers into the upper room of a house.  The wind brings the scent of seared lamb from the temple.  Mary and Martha are there, and so are Joanna and Mary Magdalene and the women of Galilee.  The disciples are there, and others, old followers and new people who have been beside him in the temple these last few days.  Jesus reclines on a rough rug, eating from a small table.  Lazarus reclines beside him, and tries to eat when he eats, to dip his bread into the same small bowl of oil.  Jesus begins to talk, telling those who are nearest to him that one of them will betray him.  Lazarus stares at his face, and then stares past him, to Peter’s stricken eyes.  Peter lifts his hand and gestures to Lazarus, and Lazarus understand.

“Who will betray you, Lord?” he asks.

Jesus mutters, so that only Lazarus can hear.  “The one who I hand this bread to, after I’ve dipped it in this dish.”  Then he reaches out, dips the bread, and hands it to Judas of Iscariot, who smiles as he accepts it, thinking that its a sign of special favor.  “Do what you have planned to do,” Jesus tells him, and Judas’s eyes change.  His face looses all expression, and he stands and leaves the room.  Lazarus stares after him.

Before Lazarus can act, before he can stand and follow Judas and prevent whatever he is planning to do, Jesus begins to speak.  He talks about where he is going and what will happen to him.  Lazarus wants to look away from the utter calm on Jesus’s face.  He feels a gauze across his vision, and realizes that it is his own tears.  He watches Jesus and sees his eyes scan the room, resting on every face.  Spending the same time studying features, looking into eyes, the same time on every face.  “Before long,” Jesus says, “the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.”  But Lazarus understands that Jesus is talking about his death.  That the dark time in Ephraim has come to stay.  He still smells the nard, but understands now that it is the smell of loss, a perfume made from the death of flowers.

“How can this be?” he wonders.  “How can this be?”  He watches Jesus look into every face, and realizes that he is not the only disciple that Jesus loves.  That they are all beloved, every one.  He looks towards the window.  The smell of sacrificial meat pours through it, invading the room.  It is met by the scent of nard.  The scent of nard pushes past it, overcomes it, and flows out into the city.  As if the weeping of Jesus was for all of them, not just for Lazarus.  As if the miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection was a universal miracle.  As if he, whom Jesus loves, is meant to represent everything there is, the whole world.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s