Sweet Dreams Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Lent 5, 2014 In the gospel reading today, Lazarus was buried in Bethany when he died (according to the story anyway). That much we knew. The Bethany grave site is a pilgrimage location still. But there is a legend that says sometime after Jesus’ crucifixion Lazarus fled to Cyprus […]
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Lent 5, 2014
In the gospel reading today, Lazarus was buried in Bethany when he died (according to the story anyway). That much we knew. The Bethany grave site is a pilgrimage location still.
But there is a legend that says sometime after Jesus’ crucifixion Lazarus fled to Cyprus where he lived another 3 decades. He dies (again) and is buried (again), this time in Cyprus. The Cyprus grave is also a pilgrimage site.
But wait, there’s more! At some point his remains were excavated and taken to Constantinople and entombed there. But his third resting place was not to be his last (not only can he not stay dead he can’t even stay buried!).
Crusaders (representing a particularly embarrassing time in Christian history) raided Constantinople and took Lazarus’ bones to France where they were buried, as we far we know, for the final time.
There are three points from the Lazarus narrative (and the subsequent grave hopping stories) that I want to lift up:
First – So many graves, so many times of leaving the graves behind!
That actually seems hopeful to me (if harsh and disrespectful of the decaying remains of poor Lazarus).
But if we equate death with endings, failures, defeats, loss…then there is good news in realizing that even a devastating “final blow” may not, in fact, be the end of the story.
Even when all hope is gone, it isn’t really.
There is something to be salvaged, something to be done, something to learn, some new experience to be had. There are dreams to be dreamed and experiences to be had beyond what seemed final.
Second – of course, we can’t gloss over Jesus’ command, “Come out!”
There is no life, no air, no light, no joy, no hope, no beautiful dreams in a tomb, or in a closet. Shame and fear keep us bound and Jesus says to take those grave clothes off.
Come out as an ally of same-gender loving people.
Come out as a friend of gender non-conforming people.
Come out as a progressive.
Come out as a spiritual seeker.
Come out as a spiritual doubter.
Come out as a Queer person.
There are places where to be discovered as gay or lesbian or transgender or even as an ally of the Queer community can cost one life or liberty, and so those of us who can come out must, so that those who can’t will know they aren’t alone and to give them hope until they can do more. We who can must come out so that those who can’t will at least be able to dream.
Like Ezekiel, we can’t fix every problem, but we can dare to dream of a better day and we can share our dream. Come out.
Thirdly, the sexy, and for some, possibly, controversial part (hooray). Remember the tradition that says that Lazarus lived another 30 years… in a world where one was considered fully grown by 15 and few hoped to live past 50, an adult Lazarus living another 30 years means that in the gospel story, he was a young man.
In Mark’s gospel, chapter 10, a young man runs up to Jesus and asks him a question about spirituality. And Mark says Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Four chapters later, chapter 14, there is a young man with Jesus in the garden at night and when the soldiers come for Jesus, the young man runs away naked.
Then two chapters after that, chapter 16, a young man is at the tomb, the first at the tomb, mourning.
Was it the same young man?
What does it mean for Jesus to look lovingly at another man?
Why was a young man with Jesus at night; and why is a young man the first mourner at the tomb?
Who is this young man that keeps popping up, that keeps being found in deeply intimate situations: looks of love, alone time at night, the first to grieve as a spouse might?
And in John’s gospel, there is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, whom tradition said lived 30 more years, which would have made him a young man in our story. Is Lazarus the name the writer of John’s gospel gives to the nameless young man who pops up repeatedly in the last half of Mark’s?
John’s story also says that Jesus wept for Lazarus, and apparently couldn’t bear to be without him. Sounds like love to me.
We know that David and Jonathan have a special, probably even romantic love in the Hebrew bible; do Jesus and Lazarus have a similar kind of love? We can’t know, but only homophobia would keep us from wondering.
Is the anonymous author that tradition has called John lifting up special, sacred bonds that are made of love and mutuality and not dependent on gender identities assigned to us at birth? Is so, what a liberating discovery; in any case, what a liberating possibility!
Why ask these kinds of questions? Why not leave well enough alone? Why not just accept interpretations that have historically privileged some while contributing to the oppression of others? The question is the answer.
Because the bible has been used to keep women subservient, it is important to lift up androgynous images of Jesus in scripture, powerful women like Esther and Judith in scripture, images of God as being imagined in feminine ways, such as when the writer of Job suggests it is God’s womb that produces winter storms, when Deuteronomy remembers God’s leading people into a land of promise and possibilities as being like a mother eagle teaching her eaglets to fly, when the writer of the book of Proverbs describes divine wisdom as being a Cosmic Lady, or when one of the contributors to the prophetic book of Isaiah speaks for God saying, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”
Because the bible has been used to protect and maintain class and racial privilege for some while marginalizing others, it is important to notice how marginalized ethnic groups in scripture are lifted up in positive ways, like when Jesus affirms Samaritans or when Ruth is named as a Moabite or when a Canaanite woman confronts Jesus when he is willing to dismiss her for not being part of his community…and in that beautiful story, Jesus has a change of heart.
And, because the bible has been used to brutalize, vilify, demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people, it is important to notice that David said he loved Jonathan more than his own soul, that Paul himself visited the isle of Lesbos, and that Jesus had intimate connections with men, so intimate, in fact, that were he anyone else we would immediately assume those connections were romantic. Was he gay or bi, or was the writer gay or bi and simply imagining Jesus to be like himself? We can’t know, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t ponder the possibilities…that’s what keeps the scriptures alive and relevant and OURS.
It is important for people who have the bible used against them to be able to see themselves in it, to be able to claim it as their own text.
Our bodies are good. Sexuality is a gift. Gender is a continuum. And same-gender love is as sacred as opposite gender love. And if we really believe those things, then it couldn’t possibly upset us to think that Jesus himself might look like us, whoever we are.
It is liberating, healing, and righteous to see ourselves in the sacred stories and to claim them as our own.
PS – that’s exactly what the gospel writers did. They imagined Jesus as being the perfect symbol of their communities and as being an affirmation for who they were. They dreamed of Jesus not as someone who opposed them, but as someone who would have embraced them, who would have understood their struggles, who was in some sense one of them. Why not follow their example and allow Jesus to symbolize the truth that we are each, just as we are, children of God?
The Ezekiel reading shows that even when we don’t know how or when things can get better, we can be lifted by our dreams and hopes of better days.
The gospel reading reminds us that even from disaster and disappointment new possibilities can emerge.
From closets or tombs of shame, new joy and self-assurance can emerge.
From old, oppressive theologies and outmoded teachings, new, liberating, self-empowering ideas and dreams can emerge.
Basically, what our readings tell us today is that it ain’t over until Mama Cass sings:
Sweet dreams til Sunbeams find you.
Sweet dreams that leave our worries far behind you.
But in your dreams whatever they be,
Dream a little dream of me.
Each of the readings shows their authors and communities dreaming of better tomorrows.
Whatever you are facing in your life today, dare to dream of better tomorrows.
We have the power to dream it until we believe it, and if we believe it we can achieve it.
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
My dreams lift me up.
My dreams sustain me.
I dream of better tomorrows.
And I know my dreams can come true.
And so it is.