Good embalming skills are hard to come by, wouldn’t you say? I was thinking about this today when I saw an advertisement for the popular television show, Bones. My friend Abby loves that show. Why an art major has a fascination with forensics is beyond me (it’s probably one of the actors… just a hunch or hunk, as the case may be). That being said, you might be interested to know that one of my favorite stories of all time is what I lovingly refer to as the story of “The Perfect Funeral.” Surprised? Don’t be. It’s not as shocking as I’m certain you’re thinking.
Many of us have heard the story of that famous former dead man, Lazarus. So many stories, songs, poems, and prose have been written about the tragic-turned-titillating affair (I know that’s a big word – it means “exciting”). The reason I love this funeral account is because Lazarus’ death is crawling with issues, mystery, and passionate love that even Evanescence couldn’t compose adequate lyrics to describe. I can just hear the Gothic band playing in the background as renowned skeptic, Thomas, makes his morbid remark, “Let’s go too, so we can die with him” (John 11:16). “…lying cold in the ground… there’s room inside for two,” Evanescence cries along.
Dead four days. That was the state Lazarus was in when his best friend arrived. Jesus had known Lazarus for a long time. When he was sick, a message was sent to Jesus right away but the miracle healer stayed away (reminding me of how often we pray for healing without a response). Now, four days later, after everyone had sealed their belief in the stiff, cold facts of Lazarus’ vacant eyes and rigor mortis, Jesus came in and confronted them all with the Truth. Ironic. By this point, anyone who’s flippantly reading or unaware of who Jesus actually is probably thinks Lazarus’ “best friend” looks more than just a little insensitive. Until we come to the next part.
Yes, John 11 is home to the simplest scripture in print (“Jesus wept”). We like simple but, as we all know, good stories are never as simple as they appear. Jesus didn’t cry because his friend was dead. No, Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” because of everyone else’s tears. People crying at a funeral?! Heaven forbid! We should be crying together! Well… it’s still not that simple.
The realization overwhelms me every time I read this story that Jesus cried because the people he passionately loved, like Mary and Martha, who he thought loved him and understood him too, didn’t know him. They’d all seen amazing miracles; their relationship ran deep he thought, but now… it was as if they didn’t know him at all. They were blind and hopeless like they’d never met him, even Mary, the darling girl who wanted quality time and sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister scolded her for not working… and Martha, the doting, responsible older sister who worked hard out of sheer desire to serve the Lord. They’d spent hours, days together soaking up each other’s company and, now, they looked straight through him like he was any other powerless Jew-shmo. Some relationship this was.
It was like the Garden of Eden all over, the sickening taste of death still dripping from their lips as if they’d bitten only a moment ago. Jesus, troubled and crying, separated again from those he loved because of their belief in death instead of HIM. Not only that but, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “death, the punishment of sin, is even more horrible in [Jesus’] eyes than in ours. The nature which He had created as God, the nature which He had assumed as Man, lay there before Him in ignominy; a foul smell, food for worms” (another big word in there – ignominy means disgraceful). The scene playing out like that of a passionate artist grieving at the degradation of a priceless, treasured work. Or, to quote another writer, Jesus was “not so much afraid of death as ashamed of it.” (Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Pt. 1, Sect. 40)
Despite all this obvious roiling emotion, you get the impression, based on the brief simplicity of “Jesus wept” that he didn’t stand around crying for long. REAL LOVE, my friends, is a constantly active, unflinching pursuit. First, that stone had to go. Jesus, as you may already know, doesn’t like stone to stand in His way (something to keep in mind next time you get a rigid, rock-solid belief about the “facts” as you see them). My favorite part of this whole story is when Martha said, “But, Lord… he stinketh; It’s been four days” (John 11:39, king james). I always imagine Jesus was thinking “Well of course death stinks! Get rid of that stone so I can take care of it already!”
I love a man who means business! Get whatever the obstacle is out of the way and tell death where to go. Jesus may have been separated from everyone he was closest to when the story began but, after Lazarus appeared at the opening of that tomb, no one was left wondering who Jesus was. The only one who has power over life and death? God. Period. End of story. Ta-da!
So now, is it any wonder to you why “The Perfect Funeral” is my favorite story? And yes, one of the actors has something to do with it. (*wink, wink*)
Can you guess what the moral of the story is?
You got it: Death stinks.