Contemplating the story of Lazarus, I had to find a King James Bible to see if it really says, “he stinketh.” That’s the memory that bubbled up in me from grade school days. What a hoot I thought it was: “he stinketh.” My fourth grade friends and I got a lot of mileage out of that little sentence, archly applying it to all sorts of people and situations.
Well, the translation does indeed read, “by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Martha, ever practical Martha, is warning Jesus that if he moves that stone he wants to roll away, he might not like what he finds.
In the hospital, where I spent a significant portion of Lent this year as I sat with Rosean in her illness, suffering bodies are everywhere. There are a lot of bodily fluids, a lot of stinking. That’s part of what nurses and CNA’s sign up for – handling the messes that bodies make when they are not functioning properly.
Being at the mercy of a sick body in a setting as public as the hospital is an experience in humility. The hospital environment is a great equalizer, stripping folks of social cues. Everybody is a body with bodily needs and experiences, some more difficult and frightening than others. You are identified by your room number and diagnosis – the lung disorder in 222. You are awakened at all hours of the night for vital signs, to change IVs, and for the tests and other procedures required by the physicians. You are your body.
I became very aware of my body as Rosean struggled with hers. I appreciated it in whole new ways as I prayed for Rosean to recover.
So I am very grateful for that little line in the story of Lazarus that makes his body a very real part of the experience of being healed and restored to life. Christ puts his creative energies right into the most creaturely part of Lazarus, into his viscera. Jesus raised Lazarus, and he did it through healing this particular body, this damaged organism, this entity that quit functioning and had begun to decay. He brought the shrouded corpse out of the wretched darkness. It gained animation as life flowed back into it. The heart began to pump, the lungs to expand. All the little microorganisms that were abandoned when the body died were back in right relationship in the larger whole again. The stink dissipated as Lazarus’ beautiful body kicked in and began to function.
The healings of Christ are not some ethereal symbolic gestures that we can theorize about all day. They take place in the real world that humanity occupies, the world of bodies and sweat and stink. And they directly and dramatically address us as embodied creatures. We begin to see that we cannot divorce ourselves from our bodies. In fact our bodies open us to our most significant spiritual transformations.
We cannot divorce ourselves from our bodies – and, by the same token, we cannot divorce ourselves from God. It’s all connected. We are of God in the same way that we are of our bodies. It’s all wrapped up together, of the same substance. Christ is of us in the same way, right in the world of our viscera. It is all one great, whole, beautiful and precious package. And it does, indeed, often times stink.