Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"See How He Loved Him!": Lazarus, the Love of God, and the Resurrection of the Dead (Part IV)

Below is the fourth and final piece of my theology paper for my Resurrection in the New Testament class. In Part IV, I conclude my paper with remarks on how the eschatological resurrection of the dead is—like the raising of Lazarus at Bethany—motivated primarily by God's love for Creation. See also Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The Resurrection of the Dead
I have argued thus far that the Gospel of John depicts both the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus as acts of divine love. It seems strange that while much attention has been given to the eschatological hope of the resurrection of the dead, the possibility of love as the catalyst of that eschatological hope has received little notice. To fully draw these three sections together into a discussion of the final resurrection, we now return to the two questions from earlier.
1) How does the Fourth Gospel portray death?
If there is one thing for certain about Lazarus, it is his death. By the time Jesus and the disciples reached Bethany, Lazarus was absolutely, totally dead. The Gospel writer emphasizes this by pointing out twice that he had been in the tomb for four days. Launching his journey from across the Jordan, Jesus tells his disciples, flatly and without great passion, “Lazarus is dead.” “This almost brutal announcement serves to correct any tendency to see death as illusory or unreal.”[1]. Death must be understood as an absolute reality for resurrection to hold theological gravity.
Some theologians maintain that resurrection is a means of surviving death,[2] but this is quite frankly against all biblical accounts, including the one most pertinent to this study. Resurrection is not a means of surviving or avoiding death. If Christ must die, the author of the Fourth Gospel argues, then we must follow him. “In response to Jesus’ decision, ‘Let us go to him [Lazarus],’ Thomas answers, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ The grammatical antecedent of ‘with him’ is Lazarus, although the meaning is clearly ‘with Jesus’ who will surely be arrested if he returns to Judea.”[3] Beginning with the decision of the disciples to follow Jesus to Bethany, the proceeding narrative is a proleptic foreshadowing of the events that will transpire in Christ’s death and resurrection. Lazarus was dead (and died again), Christ died, so surely we must harbor no illusions of escaping the inevitable. Resurrection is instead a means of descending into death and conquering it, and love is the catalyst that brings us through the other side into a transformed existence. Resurrection is our hope; in the Fourth Gospel, love is the power by which that hope is realized.
2) How does the Fourth Gospel suggest death might be overcome?
While there is no escaping death, faith in Christ offers the opportunity to overcome it. This is not a faith which rewards the believer with a golden ticket to paradise, but a placing of trust in the belief that Christ will return to establish ju›stice, and will furthermore raise the faithful from the dead as a fulfillment of his great love for us. “In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was…demonstrating the validity of his own claims that he would rise again, and that he had the power and authority to do so. This miracle…illustrates Jesus’s claims that he will raise people at the eschatological resurrection.”[4] This eschatological promise is lived out in the present by believers who—like Peter in his “reinstatement”—are called to mutual service and submission, to feeding lambs and tending sheep while sharing in the love of Christ. Rowan Williams illustrates this well: “Growth is…not simply the buried Jesus calling the buried self into a shared tomb, but the inexhaustible depth of God’s remembering love calling to the depth of hope and potentiality and freedom in the self.”[5]
To Gregory of Nyssa, the connection between Lazarus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the future resurrection of the dead is a very clear one. In On the Making of Man, Gregory writes:
Once [Jesus] had accustomed people to seeing the miracle of the resurrection in other bodies, he confirmed his word in his own humanity. You already received a glimpse of that word working in others—those who were about to die…the young man at the edge of the grave, the putrefying corpse [i.e., Lazarus], all alike restored by one command to life…Now look at him whose hands were pierced with nails, look at him whose side was transfixed with a spear…If he then has been raised, well may we utter the apostle’s exclamation, “How do some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (25.12-13)[6]

In other words, for those who have faith in Christ, the eschatological promise of the resurrection remains our hope of redemption—just as Lazarus was raised by the power of love, and just as Christ was raised and transformed in love, so will we be raised and transformed by that same salvific love.
Additionally, W.H. Cadman concludes that the glory (doxa) of God which is revealed in the Lazarus story is the result of the love-union of Christ in the Deity:
The utterance of Jesus [“I am the Resurrection and the Life”] discloses a consequence when God and the incarnate Logos are in the relation of “glory” or “love” in which God dwelt with the Logos “in the beginning,” [and] “before the world existed. If Martha has grasped and accepted this consequence of the love-union she will discern in the raising of her dead brother a revelation of the union itself.[7]

Sandra Schneiders, building upon Cadman’s claims, equates the power of Jesus to resurrect those who believe in him with his love of Lazarus—the “one whom he loved” in this case being synecdochic of the greater body of believers.[8] Through the power of God’s divine love, those who believe are raised. Regardless of whether or not Lazarus holds the distinct honor of being the Beloved Disciple, it is clear that the tradition soon developed within the Johannine community (and scriptural canon—see 1 John 2:7, 3:2, 3:21, etc.) that all Christians are “beloved disciples” sharing in the hope of the resurrection together.[9]
            The Gospel of John weaves a narrative with a common resurrection thread—love. It is the love of a friend that moves Jesus to raise Lazarus and submit himself to the grave, it is the love of God that raises Christ in glory, and it is the love of Christ which raises us to new life on the Last Day. Throughout the gospel story, divine love is the undeniable “true constant, the one sure thing” upon which the eschatological hope of all believers may rest.[10] In the story of Lazarus, we catch a glimpse not only of the literary foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Christ, but of our own resurrection, as well. “The resurrection calls us into a new beginning, into a new heaven and a new earth brought about through God’s transformative love.”[11] It is through this fundamentally transformative power that we hear the call of Christ to come out of the darkness of the tomb and into the light of New Creation, and by this power that we leave our grave clothes behind us.

[1] Sandra Schneiders, 49.
[2] See Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), 207.
[3] Sandra Schneiders, 50.
[4] Stephen S. Kim, 64.
[5] Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Revised Edition ed. (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2003), 41.
[6] Quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol 4b. Thomas C. Oden, gen. ed. (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 372.
[7] W.H. Cadman, “The Raising of Lazarus,” in Studia Evangelica: Papers Presented to the International Congress on “The Four Gospels in 1957” Held at Christ Church, Oxford, 1957. ed. by Kurt Aland, F.L. Cross, et al. (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1959), 434.
[8] Sandra Schneiders, 55
[9] Ernest Lussier, God Is Love: According to St. John (New York: Alba House, 1977), 44.
[10] Jo-Ann A. Brant, 65.
[11] Lyle K. Weiss, 181.

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