This one sentence, at the end of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, seems to give meaning to all that has gone on beforehand. We read this story in the eleventh chapter of John. Jesus, who is in another town at the time, has been informed of the dire situation with Lazarus’ health but is in no particular hurry to come see him. Mary and Martha send to Jesus, bidding him to come quickly. When he does arrive, Lazarus has died and been in the tomb several days. Both Mary and Martha are hurt and angry. Both greet Jesus by saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus goes to the tomb, calls Lazarus out, and, when Lazarus comes out wrapped in burial cloths, Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
When Mary Ward and I were first married, we were guilty at times of trying a little too hard in our relationship. It was very important to both of us that the relationship be a good one and, when we had arguments, we would work at it and work at it until we got it solved. To us that seemed like the right thing to do. But occasionally those arguments would extend late into the evening and, as we tired, our efforts became less and less fruitful. The arguments would worsen and neither one of us would let up. We had taken the old advice of not going to bed angry with each other a little too seriously and pressed things way too tightly. It became a real problem for us and no small amount of damage was done. In a real way, we were clinging to our arguments so tightly that they couldn’t be resolved. Our intentions were perhaps good but the outcome mattered so much that we kept getting in the way of any good result. Finally one night, more out of exhaustion than wisdom, we went to bed unresolved and still very angry with each other. It seemed like a huge failure.
The next morning, however, things were much better. We had a new perspective, a lighter spirit, even a little humor. We were able to say our apologies and experience, probably for the first time, reconciliation. And the great surprise was that we hadn’t solved anything. Resolution had come from somewhere else. It took us letting the argument go to find resolution.
The burial cloths with which Lazarus is bound seem to represent the way in which Mary and Martha had bound up the matter of his sickness and death with their own obsessing. “Where is Jesus? Why isn’t he here? If he doesn’t hurry Lazarus will die. Why didn’t you get here sooner? You’ve really messed things up now.” Jesus says: “Unbind him, and let him go.” Trust God to make this well. It’s beyond your capability and you’re holding things back with your overworking. Let it go. Let it die. And watch God bring new life.
Easter is nearly upon us now. There are things binding us that need releasing. Often in Lent we approach things with a great deal of seriousness: what should we take on and work harder at improving in our lives? But probably there are more things that we need to let go of, allow to die, unbind, so that God may bring about something new. Sometimes it is our overworking of issues in our lives, rather than the underworking of them, that gets in the way of true resolution. Often we’re trying so hard to make things better that we keep God from touching us and renewing us.
Easter invites us to lighten up and let go of that which holds us, that which we hold onto too tightly. What are you overworking in your spiritual life? Unbind it, and let it go. Freedom, grace, and new life awaits.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.