Unbind him and set him free

If you ever find yourself in Oxford make your way to the chapel of New College. There you will find a truly remarkable statue of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein. It is in white marble. As you look you will see the bands of death being stretched round the body of Lazarus almost to breaking point. He is being dragged reluctantly from the grave. This reluctance to come forth from the place of safety and death is further emphasised by the fact that his head is turned backwards as he is being pulled back to life. That beautiful piece of sculpture offers a profound insight into the story of Lazarus found in John’s Gospel:- Resistance to true freedom.

To get inside the story we need to identify our own resistance to removing the stone covering the cave where the body lay buried along with our resistance to believing the word of Jesus that endlessly gives life.

Having taken the stone away listen to the word spoken in a loud voice “Lazarus come out”. A loud voice reaching down into the very depths of all that is life taking: That echoes through the ages and that cannot be resisted. The command “Unbind him and let him go” reflect the word spoken to Moses from the Burning Bush:- “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt” – the house of slavery.

These images form the basis of the Third Scrutiny as the Elect prepare themselves within their parish communities for the Easter Vigil. In fact for both the individual and the community the questions raised are demanding indeed and reach into the psyche of both:

  • What am I reluctant to reveal about myself or my community?
  • What in my life am I reluctant to change?
  • What do I or we want to keep hidden away?
  • What do I or we need to do to set others free?
  • What word or command of Jesus do I most resist?
  • What word or command of Jesus echoes deep within me?
  • From what do I or my community need to be unbound and set free?

The prayer prayed over the Elect and on behalf of the community has much to offer to these reflections. The prayer is geared towards those who are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil but can easily be adapted for those already one with us through baptism or for the community as a whole. The lines or words in italics are offered as a possible adaptation.

“Father of life and God not of the dead but of the living,

you sent your Son to proclaim life,

to snatch us from the realm of death,

and to lead us to the resurrection.

Free these elect (us)

from the death-dealing power of the spirit of evil,

so that they (we) may witness

to their (our) new life in the risen Christ,

for he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

(Then with hands outstretched)

Lord Jesus,

by raising Lazarus from the dead

you showed that you came that we might have life

and have it more abundantly.

Free (us) from the grasp of death

those who await your life-giving sacraments

(as we celebrate your life-giving sacraments)

and deliver them from the spirit of corruption.

(and continue to deliver us from the spirit of corruption)

Through your Spirit, who gives life,

fill them (us) with faith, hope and charity,

that they (we) may live with you always

in the glory of your resurrection

for you are Lord for ever and ever. Amen”

A thought!

“Sickness struggles to own the world. I want you to live.

Live, do you hear me? Half-living is a safe hell.

The house I build is for souls who would be well.”

‘The house I build’ by Brendan Kennelly

Ken O

03/03/08

What’s in a Family Tree?

Monday the 17th December marks a change in the journey towards Christmas or perhaps more correctly it marks a moment when the birth of Jesus comes to meet and remind us that we are all part of his family tree.

Matthew’s Gospel begins with the family tree of Jesus the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. It is beautifully put together, neatly divided and very often missed out as the list of names has a tendency to confuse rather than inform. Yet it is worth looking at and reflecting on. Genealogies tell us where and who we come from, they give us a sense of identity and point us in a direction. Really good genealogies include even the skeletons we would like to keep in the cupboards of our lives. A bit like Harry Potter hidden away under the stairs.

The genealogy of Jesus goes a long way to telling us who he is, where he comes from and where he’s going. He is a carries in his genes the blood of Abraham and the blood of David. It is important to remember that when Abraham began his journey from the ancient city of Ur, near modern Basra, he was a gentile. As King Hussein of Jordan reminded us when he spoke at the funeral of his friend Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral “we are all the children of Abraham”. If only we could take on board the implications of that word. The radicalness of us all being children of Abraham is found in the words of John the Baptist when he says “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones”. See the world through inclusive rather than exclusive eyes.

Jesus also carries the blood of David, the great King,who reigned over the Israel at a time when they were at their most powerful, a kingdom that stretched from Dan to Beersheba. A Kingdom which didn’t last long, became divided and eventually became totally destroyed resulting in the deportation of the people to Babylon. The exile in Babylon makes a key moment in the history of Jesus’ people. When all is lost and there appears to be no future, how can we and even God stay faithful to us?

A truly terrible time. Akin in the gospel story to the disciples facing the crucifixion of Jesus. All is lost, there is no future. How can we go on? Should we give up?

The Exile and the Crucifixion of Jesus amazingly become the great moments of Hope rather than despair. A miracle indeed!

The family tree of Jesus tells us that he carries the whole story of his people and not just his people in a narrow way but the story of all of us. The skeletons in the cupboard come in the names of the women mentioned in the otherwise more normal list of men. They are to say the least foreign and to a greater or lesser extent involved in rather dubious behavior even though they are undoubtedly very strong women who despite the unquestioned difficulties which face them come out with great integrity and wholeness.

Tamar: Who uses all of her cunning and skill to get her rights: Genesis 38 Rahab:of the scarlet cord hanging from the window: Joshua 2 Ruth:The Moabitess who becomes the Great Grandmother of King David: Book of Ruth Uriah’s wife:The unnamed Bathsheba who is simply taken by David and whose husband, the honourable Uriah the Hittite is murdered on David’s orders. 2 Samuel 11 And finallyMarywho is found to be with child by the Holy Spirit and whom Joseph takes home as his wife and who is named Jesus but will be called “Emmanuel” a name which means ‘God is with us’.

The family tree of Jesus is definitely worth more than a glance or two. Also of course our own family tree whether that tree be biological or of our faith journey carries much that can enlighten, enrich and even challenge our lives. It is always good to remember that we are all in one way or another members of the family tree of Jesus.

Ken O

17/12/07