Stephen Colbert, of the Colbert Report who invented the term “truthiness” on his first show 7 years ago, continues to remind us of the folly, and funny bone, of words in our politically charged environment. “Truthiness” is the curious failure of facts to hold up against, how we make decisions based on the gut feelings we have. Which explains a lot about campaign elections! None more so, than this current one. Political ads, which have saturated TV commercials in Ohio, and other swing states, are shining examples of this “truthiness.” Often debunked by fact checkers as either, ‘somewhat false,’ ‘false,’ or –everyone’s favorite- “Pants on Fire” false, none-the-less they resonate with their core voters, appealing to the gut reaction of those who’ve already made up their minds, despite the facts. But, as crazy as this “truthiness” is, what’s truly Halloween scary is, that apparently many undecided voters watch these ads, to make up their minds how to vote! And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30+ years of presidential voting, it’s that the process of campaigning, and the candidates governing once in office, are two very different things!
With the public sign of the raising Lazarus, Jesus in not campaigning for anything, but simply living out the calling God’s already given him as the Christ, and our Messiah. “Lazarus come out,” is all he says in the face of the stench of death, at the door to the stone cold grave. When Lazarus walks out, “his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth,” Jesus’ promise to be the resurrection and the life, is kept.
In the classic children’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – adapted from a story by the Spaniard, Juan Manuel – Hans Christian Andersen exposes the vainglory of the Emperor, when two swindlers pretend to make him a new special suit of clothes, that will be invisible to those who seek his throne. Everyone plays along with the joke, until a child suddenly calls out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" The collective denial, social hypocrisy, and hollow ostentatiousness of the king *and crowd!* are exposed by the child’s unknowing candor with just a few words.
Clothing is important in defining the truth and life of who we are. Whether expensive or hand-me-downs, flashy and attractive or less-noticed, clothing weaves a story about our identity. Even in death, clothing matters. My dad, as he lay in his casket at the visitation in my growing-up church, wore a favorite coat and tie, picked out by my mom. She knew what he liked, and it fit him, and helped to make him look like himself, as he lay there in his apparent four day slumber.
My dad was the kind of guy who wore a suit or a sport coat to his work place for like, 35 some years. He had a closet full of them. None of them, however, fit me or my youngest brother Bill, but my middle brother, Dave, who’s slightly bigger, took a couple home, before my mom decided to give the rest away. I kept a few shirts and fleece sweatshirts of my dad’s, that did fit me. I like wearing them, and somehow feel closer to him when I do. I think I did it at first because I didn’t want to let go. But now I do it because he gets farther from my grasp all the time, and I just want to remember, as best I can. It still doesn’t make sense completely, but, as I pull on his dark blue fleece pull-over, I realize it’s an exercise in sustaining a relationship that I know is important, a family responsibility to something that has a claim on me, and can and does, like every other family relationship, make demands of me, that I wrestle with still – as I try, like all of us do, to conquer the power of death in my life.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;” says John of Patmos, in his Apocalyptic letter to the seven churches. “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her [partner, her] husband.” Like Jesus in his resurrection, and here in this vision of the renewal of the earth, God’s precious and magnificent creation is dressed in the splendor of a bride, on the threshold of walking down the aisle, and saying I do. Did they wear white back then in Jesus’ time, like many brides still favor today? Some say it was ivory or a royal yellowish-gold, like the flame of a candle. Which would be appropriate, actually, for Revelation, and for the promise that we won’t have to worry about having enough oil, to keep our lamps lit anymore, for in the new earth, the new Jerusalem, Christ will be our light!
What will we wear? That is the question! Are we wearing the Emperor’s new clothes? Are we struggling with the clothes of this world’s demands and grief’s? Or, are we putting on our white baptismal gown?
Jesus had stayed away from going to Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany an extra day instead of rushing on over when he heard that his friend Lazarus had died. Timing hangs heavy in the exchange between them, Martha and Mary both kvetching that if Jesus had been there earlier, their brother would not have died. But, Jesus wasn’t late because he couldn’t decide what to wear! Jesus came late intentionally, on the fourth day, when it was past the time of hoping for revival or a miracle, and when the stench was growing, an embarrassing sign of Jesus’ tardiness, to “gird his loins” and take the proper action, which was fueling Martha’s anger with Jesus. So, the thing that was supposed to happen with Lazarus, and all the dead of 1st C. Palestine, was happening: wrapped in clothes and laid in the rock hewn tomb, his body was left to decay, and then after a year’s time, when everything but the bones had been decomposed, as they always did in that climate, the silent bones, not rattling together, would be reverently transferred to his ossuary and permanently buried.
So when Jesus calls to Lazarus to come out, there might be snickering at, or possibly sympathetic bewilderment, for Jesus. But, as Lazarus makes his way out, bound in strips of cloth around his whole body and cloth wrapped around his face, this sign of God’s glory begins to unveil itself. Jesus, in tandem with the one to whom he addresses his prayer, makes it possible for the community to arise now to the occasion. Not as we might think, with a round of applause, like at a Barnum and Bailey circus, or with a collective gasp, as at a Houdini escape, but we are enabled and invited to enter into a partnership with, the creator and redeemer of the whole universe and author of all life. And so Jesus tells the gathering, you “unbind him, and let him go!”
The grave cloths, which wrap and cover over the power of death that separates us from our loved ones, and the wholeness we seek as community, must be removed. Jesus, however, doesn’t do it for us, but invites us as church, the people of faith, who are not bound up in the “truthiness” of grave clothes, but live already with one foot in the new Jerusalem, to be the ones to, unbind him and let him go. God invites us to partner with God, in unbinding whatever masks the stench of death in our lives: And so, we support one another when our friends lose loved ones, a mother or father, a brother or sister, a child before its time. We are called as community to unbind the “truthiness” of privilege and prejudice that are stinking up the neighborhood, and killing the opportunities for new life, which all too often target the same peoples, over and over again. We are called as community to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, to unwrap each strip of cloth, and unbind every impediment, to the resurrection and the life Jesus offers us daily, and forever.
Jesus calls us as community, not to put our trust in, just one vote, on one day, but to put on our baptismal robes for the work of the long haul, the daily call, to unbind Lazarus, and be the public church in the world, that lives by the power of the Spirit.
We live this All Saints Day, already with one foot in the new Jerusalem, and, in the promise of the day when our grave clothes will be exchanged for wedding garment s, and God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.”