An elephant is lying the psychiatrist’s couch. It was a strong couch. He turns, slowly to the psychiatrist and says, “Even when I am in a room full of people, it is like know when notices me.”
The elephant in the room. The taboos we don’t talk about. Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, “Don’t mention the war”. It seems in life each one of us experiences an ‘elephant in the room moment’. Or maybe it is more than a moment. The elephant is a permanent resident in the room and people walk around it with out daring to mention that it is there.
This week a 10 year old girl committed suicide in an aboriginal community in WA, a year or so after her brother had. I spoke to a Maori elder who told me of a 15 year old boy who committed suicide in the same place his Dad did some years before. The Guardian website reported: ‘Suicide was the second leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 14 and under in 2014, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday. Indigenous children in that age group were 8.8 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to take their own life.’ An elephant in the room mainstream media have ignored.
Churches and institutions, countries and governments, families and friends, also have large grey object that is never far from the centre of attention in their space but is never actually mentioned. T
Our Gospel today we encounter several such moments. Mary and the expensive perfume. Judas and his consternation at waste. Jesus and the poor will always be with you. All raises large grey shaped images. What are they about? Why would someone waste so much money by pouring expensive perfume on someone’s feet? What is the point? Jesus is not dead. It seems a wasteful actJesus not only condones but applauds.
Judas knows the need in society and does not get it. Why such extravagance while people starve, are homeless and unemployed? I could have used that money to make a difference. The elephant of social justice is loose in the room.
Jesus’ reply suggest that this is a systemic problem unlikely to solved by the price of a bottle of perfume and, in actual fact, will be with us permanently until the kingdom of God is firmly in place. The number of elephants in the room are growing.
And then there is Lazarus. What is he doing here? Is he here or is it just a rumour? He’s dead isn’t he? We went to his funeral. I know I did. How come he is alive? Or is he? How did (could) that happen?
And the questions grow and multiply.
What was it like to be dead and now alive? It must have been dark in the tomb. What’s like being dead for 4 days and walking out into the sun again? What did that feel like? What was he thinking about while he was in there? Was he able to think? What did he think when the rock was rolled away and he heard Jesus call him out?
And I am sure there were many furtive looks his way, trying to make sense of the situation and not blurting out the obvious questions. The elephants in the room were crowding out the guests. The Gospel writer acknowledges the prominence Lazarus takes by noting that “9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.”
And it’s the same problem they face after Jesus rises from the dead. Having put Jesus in the tomb they thought their problems were solved. Somehow he reappears and the impact, over time, rattles the security of the authorised religion.
Yet it is not what happens on Easter morning that intrigues me as much as what happens in the darkness of the tomb. Modern day Christians leap straight from Good Friday into a romanticised Sunday morning without giving Saturday, Easter Eve much attention. It is just that moment from which Jesus returns and that is the only moment it plays in the Easter story.
Yet what happens in the tomb is the springboard for the future. Without the deep dark abyss of Jesus confrontation with death, there can be no life giving resurrection, in whatever form you may believe that came. In the darkness Jesus confronts the complete loss of the normality of life he had enjoyed as an incarnated man. Like Lazarus, the normal social intercourse was no longer available and he was left in the darkness of no living thing. Lazarus and Jesus were completely disconnected and free at the very same time, free to become the newly created person that was now available to them.
Often it seems to me, moderns want to make the leap from their own particular death experience and arrive at their resurrection without doing time in the tomb. When tragedy, errors, failures, loss of relationships or partners, loss of job and career and more occur we are urged to seek closure and to move on as quickly as possible. Death may have arrived but resurrection is demanded almost immediately. Funerals for example occur as quickly as possible so people can get back to normal. All seems to be solved over a quick cuppa after the funeral and it’s onto the next thing on out agenda.
Easter Eve is the solemnest day of the Easter festival. It is the day we sit outside the tomb with Mary and the others trying to come to grips with our loss. Like Mary and Martha outside Lazarus’s tomb we try and find a reason for hope. Sometime before midnight on the evening of Easter eve we, as Christians, participate in the Easter Vigil service, in preparation for what is about to occur and that we celebrate on Easter day, the resurrection of Jesus.
It is in the darkness we see the light beginning to flicker into life, hesitantly and fragile at first and then growing stronger and more illuminating as we light up the church. That may be what it was like for both Lazarus and Jesus at the moment the stone was rolled away.
For Jesus the stone remained rolled away. Unfortunately for Lazarus, if he was in fact alive, that was not to be the case, but they both shared the life empowering experience of darkness and despair, and stepped forward into our world as evidence of a great spiritual possibility. Transformation. Transformation begins in those moments when all seems lost. Easter is the story of transformation, not just of Jesus the Christ, but of each of us who encounter him in the tomb.
For Jesus and the disciples this was not an instant event, but a growing realisation of kinship and freedom, experienced together and forever. For us, it is important we do not slip past the tomb without taking the time to sit in the darkness and experience the more that is to come. For us, it is important we do not seek to move to quickly out of the darkness that invades our lives, jumping from Good Friday to Easter Day without taking in what the darkness brings.
Lazarus is one of the elephants in the room when Jesus comes to his home, and the darkness of the tomb can be the elephant in the room in the Easter story. Let’s use this time to experience the transformation the whole story of Easter contains and begin to acknowledge the elephants we walk around in our own lives, communities and society.