By Chaplain Chet Rains
“The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”
Whenever I read this verse, I always think about my Dad. Great husband, great father, great friend, great influence, great example…and I miss him terribly. He died when he was 49, of a cerebral hemorrhage, the result of unchecked blood pressure. I was 26. This verse reminds me of him because of the words “grave clothes.” He was buried in the only suit I owned at that time. It was expensive then (1985), came from a men’s clothing store on Broad Street in Augusta, Georgia, and cost me about $150. I had only worn it about five times before I turned it over to him. The suit was needed for him on this side of glory. They were part of a ritual and a formality, because everyone has to buried in something, and something nice is usually chosen. That expensive suit, though, was nothing more than “grave clothes.”
I believe the symbolism here is strong, and lends itself to those things that hold us captive in life, things that bind and constrict, and eventually lead to a slow, agonizing death. Not actually a physical death, mind you, but the figurative death of things like joy, love, peace, contentment, and freedom. With the proverbial “slow death” of these things comes the increase of things like greed, anger, and selfishness. We have glimpsed both the compassionate and selfish sides of humanity during this time of crisis and quarantine. The word “essential” has taken on new meaning and has become one of the more debatable words used today. Who is essential? Why are some staying at home while others are moving about without restriction? What businesses and services are essential? Why are some businesses closed while others continue to remain operational? After all, aren’t people and businesses essential in and of themselves? For the most part, we have obeyed the restrictions placed upon us. Now, though, a sense of restlessness and a craving for normalcy (whatever that might be) are taking hold. People are straining against the ties that bind. We miss the freedom we once took for granted. Life, though, as we once knew it, is no more. It died, and as we do when we experience a death, we make the necessary adjustments and forge ahead.
As Christ continues to heal our land and remove the “death clothes” that bind us, attitudes and actions are changing. We are now seeing a renewed interest in one another. We are seeing that the best of life isn’t found in possessions or power or prestige, but in relationships. The “death clothes” were removed from Lazarus and he was allowed, through the power and healing of Christ, to live again. He was allowed a “do-over,” and I want to believe he made the best of the second chance he had been given. As Christ continues to heal our land, we, too, are being given a “do-over,” and I hope we will make the most of it. As we anticipate better days ahead, may we do so recognizing that God’s greatest gift to us is salvation through the blood of Christ, and that His second greatest gift is the presence of others in our lives.