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Lazarus and Doctor Who

In an especially strange recent episode of Dr. Who, the Doctor used his time lord capability and the Tardis to go back in time to the extent of viewing himself in a previous conversation. He went back to rewrite time and to save his travelling companion Clara from dying. I am sure that this would not have been allowed in the days of the real Dr. Who - I mean of course William Hartnell, for in those days the script writers felt bound to obey at least some of the laws of physics. But wouldn’t this going back and rewriting be a handy thing to be able to do?

Mary says “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” I wonder how many of us have had occasion to say “If only ….” Sitting recently with a family who were grieving, their loss it seemed hinged on the slimmest of events and the tiniest of choices and everybody was thinking “If only we had done this other thing instead.” Many other smaller and less significant incidents are like that: “if only I had left home a fraction earlier that person who ran into my car would have been long gone; If only I hadn’t said those words….”

So it is tempting to think of the raising of Lazarus as Jesus putting something right. Two days earlier he had learned of his friends sickness yet only now had he come and some around him are murmuring “Could he not have kept this man from dying?” Is this Jesus rewriting time? After all, lucky Lazarus is raised his death is reversed. The ancient Greeks would have thought Lazarus unlucky. They were quite clear, the body was a prison for the soul and any soul released from the body would not under any circumstances want it back. Or as the book of Wisdom put it “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them; they are at peace. “

This is not a story of Jesus reordering the past, responding to that “if only” of Mary’s but a story pointing to the future. John’s Gospel is particularly about such signs of the world to come and he is the only one to report this event. It is clearly a sign of the possibility of future life after death. Just before our reading began Jesus said to his apostles “plainly Lazarus is dead and for your sake I am glad that I was not there so that you may believe.”

The raising of Lazarus is a way of showing the Apostles what he has been trying to tell them - it is only a sign though because the new life that Jesus promises is life with its beauty enhanced not like the old one (to which Lazarus returns) but completely fresh with all pain, ugliness and grief abolished.

You will often have heard the same idea in the book of Revelation:

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men; he will dwell with them and they shall be his people and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes - neither shall there be mourning or pain any more. “

And written much earlier our reading in the book of Wisdom says:

Those who trust in him will understand truth and the faithful will abide with him in love.”

Lazarus is not about going back in some Tardis but about looking forward - we need to see this again as clearly as the ancient Greeks did. The true and promised home of the soul s not here with Lazarus but elsewhere with God and the saints where grace and mercy are upon them and God watches over them.

Amen

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