I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.
— T.S. Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
In the last glimpse we catch of Lazarus, he is sitting at a dinner held in Christ’s honor, the object of the crowd’s curiosity and the target of a murder plot. People were going over to Jesus because He had raised Lazarus from the dead, so the Pharisees decided to kill Lazarus. They could be very straightforward in their problem-solving. Their solution would only have worked, however, if Lazarus stayed dead. One wonders if they detected a potential pitfall in this.
We are never told what became of the murder plot. Presumably it never came off. I am more impressed by the image in the Gospel of the people flocking to see Lazarus. I think I would have been more interested in hearing him. Lazarus, come from the dead, back to tell us all – But as far as the narrative reports, he tells nothing. Lazarus returns from the dead and silently vanishes.
He is not the only one. Other people rise from the dead, in both Testaments: the widow’s son in Nain, Jairus’ daughter, Dorcas, Eutychus, the Shunnamite’s son, the son of the widow in Zarephath. None of them is given a voice in Scripture to tell their story or make a statement. None of them tells all, or even anything. And it’s possible they had nothing to tell. Maybe rising from the dead was like waking up from sleep. We wouldn’t know.
There was another Lazarus, the beggar carried by the angels to heaven in Jesus’ parable. Later the rich man, in hell, asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, a messenger from the dead to bring truth to the living. Abraham dismissed the idea: They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
Let them listen to Moses and the prophets. We already have been told what we need to hear; the dead have nothing more to add. They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Strangely enough, the dead can’t even tell the truth better than it has already been told. And this, maybe, is what lies behind the loud silence of the Bible’s returned dead. Lazarus was raised as a sign and not as a messenger; the widows’ sons returned for love and not revelation.
One did return from death and speak. Jesus Christ is the only resurrection among all the risen dead. Everyone else returned to life before the grave, still to die for good and all. Only Christ traveled through death and beyond, to life in eternity – death not only reversed but conquered, never to be suffered again. The creeds say that Christ descended into hell. He Himself told no tales. What did He say? I think we should notice that He told the disciples that they should have seen this one coming, what with Moses and the prophets and all. And beyond that?
He gave a command, a commission, a blessing. He gave a promise that we would never be alone, and a brotherhood. I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. He gave hope, in more than words. We still haven’t torn down the veil of death. But we have – out of the darkness, the cold, the emptiness, above all grief and fear – the blazing glory of the Risen Son.