Every parting gives a foretaste of death;
every coming together again a foretaste of the resurrection.
-Arthur Schopenhauer, 19h century
Lazarus was dead. There was no doubt about that fact. Jesus tells his disciples plainly as he finally prepares to go to Bethany in response to the message that his dear friend, the brother of Martha and Mary, was gravely ill. By the time Jesus arrives we are told Lazarus has been in the grave four days. And everyone who greets him drives home the point that Lazarus is dead.
This Sunday we will revisit this story from John’s gospel, often dubbed “The Raising of Lazarus.” UCC pastor and Stillspeaking writer Talitha Arnold prefers to call it “The Descending of Jesus” for it “shows God’s willingness to go to the depths of human life – deep into the despair, impotence, and grief Jesus knew at Lazarus’ death.”
There is truth in that statement for death is an experience we all know so well. And not just in terms of physical, final death for our bodies, but as Schopenhauer noted “Every parting gives a foretaste of death.” Which is probably why so many of us hate goodbyes and some of us won’t even say goodbye to a loved one or friend when parting.
Our denial of death also leads us to not fully live life. This becomes painfully obvious when we are finally, completely, confronted with our own impending death. Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, chronicled her observations and experiences of working with dying patients in a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Here is a summarized version of her observations:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
One of the gifts of the Season of Lent is to invite us to draw close to death as we experience the death of Lazarus and eventually on Good Friday the death of Jesus. Yes, the ultimate goal of Lent is to arrive at Easter and the glorious celebration of the resurrection. But Easter only has power when we grapple with the reality and face squarely the reality of death: for Jesus and for ourselves. The dying offer us lessons that can improve our living. Reflect on this list and consider what is your greatest regret so far? And more importantly, what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida