Has anyone asked Lazarus whether he wants to be raised from the dead? I think that if I'm Lazarus, I'm pretty annoyed that Jesus calls me back from the grave. And not only because, now, I have to die again (and maybe violently this time since the Pharisees are so aggravated at Jesus and how people are believing in him that they plan to kill the both of us to put a stop to it).
To put it in my terms: back from the grave my knees hurt again. I am deaf as a post and I forget things I used to know. Who wants to come back to a world where a man shoots a judge and is proud of it, where another man shoots the family of a judge, where yet another man doesn't like the sermon and so he kills the preacher, the preacher's son, five others and then himself, where a good Lutheran layman turns out maybe to have been a notorious and brutal serial killer? There are suicide bombers, wars and rumors of wars, and four days into eternity I am already beginning to enjoy the heavenly choirs and the feeling, finally, of peace. If I am Lazarus I want to stay where I am--no more pain, no more tears, no more whiney, reactive sisters, no more politicians or generals or TV preachers. Let me stay dead.
But Jesus, my friend, has called me back. And so I go. I obey him because I love him. And if this is where he wants me, back in the middle of the mess, then heaven can wait a while longer and I will follow his voice and go where he wants me to go and do what he wants me to do even though it sure ain't heaven.
In John’s account of the gospel, the story of Lazarus serves as the ironic hinge to the whole narrative. That is, Jesus gives life to Lazarus and by doing so insures his own death. The story here is a matter of death and life—that is what happens to Lazarus—but also a matter of life and death—that is what will soon happen to Jesus.
But it also seems to me to be a parable of sorts, too. That for now anyway Jesus will not let his friends, those who love him and are loved by him, remain too long in the throes of eternity before calling them back to the real world. They may have a mountaintop experience, as on the Mount of Transfiguration, or they may see a glimpse of heaven, as Lazarus did; they may want to build booths and stay there, one way or the other, but Jesus keeps calling them back to where he is, to where there is sadness and anger and disappointment and prayer.
He keeps calling us back to where there is death that we might bear witness to life, and he keeps calling us in our lives to be unafraid of death or life. He calls to us to come forth, which is to say, to go forth, into the world where we know how people feel, and we know what they need, and we like Jesus are agitated and groan sometimes at all we see, but Jesus our friend keeps calling us back. Right back into the world to be with him. And if this is where he wants us, for now, then heaven can wait a little while longer and until then we will go and do, and go and do, just because he calls us.