Although far removed from the Fifth Sunday in Lent, this last week in July gives me an annual chance to ponder anew the raising of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John.
I have always loved this story, and found great joy in preaching on friendships tried, expectations challenged, reliance on God – all leading up to the triumphant “Lazarus, come out!” All very well and good, and let’s get on to Holy Week. What I didn’t yet know was the best part of the story was yet to come.
Some of the circumstances of my life, partly growing up gay in the 1960s in the suburbs of the Midwest, formed me as a chameleon. Early on, I became deft at wearing whatever guise I thought might be expected of me, changing masks when it seemed desirous or necessary.
One of the masks I tried on late in life was a social life of recreational drug use. It was like finding a ticket to an amusement park I never knew existed. Of course, amusement park life and real life could never meet. Now there were two complete sets of masks.
And I learned, as many of us have learned, it was fun --- until it wasn’t. Fun to habit to problem to utter chaos. I struggled to solve my addiction on my own before anyone else found out. After all, it was my fault, right?
As the unmanageability of my life skyrocketed, my energies were directed at keeping those two sets of masks apart, with increasingly less success. And then it happened, my worlds collided, and I hit a bruising and humiliating bottom.
The days immediately after were the darkest I had ever known, culminating in dragging my frightened, defeated self into my Bishop’s office saying, “help.” Slowly, help arrived. Often from the people I had hurt the most.
And this, of course is the point of the Lazarus story I had previously overlooked, and now live by. After Lazarus is alive, but not yet living, Jesus turns to the crowd saying, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Take all those masks off of him, and let him begin to live as the person God made.
And from that day to this, through the grace of God, and with the Steps and Fellowships, I try to practice resurrection, to live unbound by the masks of self. And this new life is often not what I want, certainly not what I had planned. But, day by day, if I pay attention, it is the life that I need. Thanks be to God!