Have you heard the humorous story about the friends who were discussing death? One of them asked the others, “What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?” The first of the friends replied, “I would like them to say, ‘He was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community.’” The second of the friends said, “I would like them to say, ‘She was a caring wife and mother, who set an example for many to follow.’” The third friend said, “I would like them to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
Wouldn’t we all avoid the inevitability of death if we possibly could? But, death will come – not just our ultimate physical deaths, but countless smaller deaths will precede that final demise. As Rev. Craig Barnes asked: Do you get to hang onto your parents forever? Or your children? Do you get to keep your youth? Your work? Your health? Even if you do succeed in holding onto these things for a time, eventually you will lose them, or “die” to them.
In light of the losses we are certain to experience, some people try to hide themselves away from life, as a form of self-protection. Ironically, they take themselves to virtual tombs of their own making. They may think that by remaining entombed and unengaged in life, they won’t be wounded again. Safely tucked away, they will not face further loss.
Do you know people like that? People who have just given up, closed up, boarded up the warmth of their spirits like a beach home before the threat of a hurricane? Maybe you’ve been tempted to close yourself up and shut yourself away from engagement with life for some reason. Grief or anger can lead you into a tomb. Resentment, apathy, bitterness or addiction can do it. Even grumpiness, cynicism and pessimism, those persistent little dissatisfactions with life, can be the maladies that seal you away from life.
The danger that comes with lingering in self-imposed tombs is that it leads insidiously to further loss. While we may enter as a temporary means of self-protection, staying there in those airless, dreary places can lead to moral, spiritual and emotional decline. Finally, those places will become the cold sites of our physical deaths, too. Is that what we really want? Is that what God wants for us?
The story of Lazarus from the Christian scriptures seems to say no. Lazarus was Jesus’ dear friend who suddenly died and was placed in a tomb. When Jesus arrived several days later, he called into that place of certain death, “Come out!” and out came Lazarus, still wrapped in grave clothes, but stumbling toward the bright light and new life.
We think the call to newness of life extends to us, too. When we’ve prematurely entombed ourselves, submitting to the spiritually and emotionally deadening things of life, that need not be the end. Can you hear it? God’s voice of hope and comfort and renewal is calling us to something more, “Come out!”