Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man …”
Please open up the Good Book and prepare your hearts, because our reading today is about death. That’s right, I want you to turn to your neighbor and say, “Darling, this sermon’s about death.”
Oh, not dying, mind you. Not withering and weeping and watching a soul evaporate into the clouds. Not about the long march toward heart failure and the acceptance of mortality and a man’s need for eternal security.
No, about being dead. The deadness of death. The black infinity. The other side of the curtain.
Imagine with me a man – our Lazarus here. When he lived on this earth – we can’t even say “when he walked on this earth” because he couldn’t walk! – when he made his way through this portal of tribulations, his time was filled with more pain than a field has flies. He could not turn but another calamity come his way. Feet, broken. Back, crumpled. Stomach, aching. Ego, shot.
This Lazarus we barely call living but for the wheeze escaping his lungs. On the other side of the fence that he leaned up against day and night – on the other side of that white picket fence was the rich man. And this man was rich. He ate steak stuffed with lobster stuffed with veal, and every guest ate the same. This rich man lived, and the only thing short of perfection was the limit on the number of palpitations the good Lord ordained for his heart – powerful right up to the last.
But the last did come, sure as sugar. It did come, and those two souls were marched from the world of men to angels. Lazarus took his seat at an enormous buttery, bacony feast with Father Abraham, and the rich man was fed a steady diet of worms and searing pain.
And here we are now. The deadness of death, and two men sitting there, being dead. And another white picket fence is there, running right between them. The rich man in his poverty calls across that fence, “Oh, Abraham! Send that lad of yours for a moment’s help, won’t you? Oh, Abraham! Send that lad to rustle up my brothers and make ‘em do right.” Abraham clutches his Lazarus, whispers “Don’t worry boy, you’re staying right here with me,” and he dispatches the rich man’s rich requests: “Ain’t no death that didn’t begin in life. And furthermore …”
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to stop right here at Father Abraham’s “furthermore.” Because I’ve got a confession to make. This is a mighty fine story about being dead. You’ve got angels and the great by and by, and you’ve got a feast and you’ve got destiny. This is a mighty fine story about these things, but this is just a story, I must tell you. The deadness of death sure does begin in life, but with this furthermore it ain’t no more story; it’s the real death we have here.
“Furthermore,” said Father Abraham. “Even a resurrection from the dead ain’t gonna change nobody’s mind.”
It ain’t gonna persuade nobody, says Abraham, because a resurrection ain’t no persuasion. It’s an explosion of light.
A resurrection, you see, is a swirl of all the colors in three dimensions. It’s the deadness of death turned inside out.
And a resurrection, you see, ain’t no flimsy argument. A resurrection is surely an insurrection – a great en garde and countercharge of life against death. It’s an uprising from within the prison, and when it’s out it ain’t letting down arms. It’s grabbing up the townspeople, slicing the necks of all those rich men who look at it askance – knowing their riches are at stake.
All the deadness of death is in the resurrection. Just being dead, I say, was no swaying and singing for Jesus Christ. It was a familiar place for him, where the Spirit brooded over the face of the waters, the stillness of death just being death. And once again, at the sound of but one word, a million kilowatts of energy shot through the whole darn thing: Life!
Oh, that rich man didn’t know what he was asking for. Oh, he had no idea what a resurrected man would do. Oh, that Lazarus had his comfort with Father Abraham, but even that being-dead Lazarus and that being-dead Abraham were waiting. Oh, even their deaths are just a story waiting for an ending.
“Furthermore,” I say to you, my friends. In you there is some death. In you there is some pain and some wincing. Oh, this life is a way to death. But “Furthermore,” Jesus says to you, my friends, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Furthermore, my friends, the insurrectional, electrocutional, three dimensional explosion of light is drawing you and me out of the deadness of death and into Jesus’ resurrection.
Amen and amen, my friends!
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.