The stench of the tomb

Are we willing to love, facing the stench of the tomb?

This past week I presided at a funeral in a rural village. The wife of a man active in the local church had died, just three weeks after their son had died in an accident.

When I arrived the people were in the small church gathered around the casket.

I walked to the front and as I walked past the casket I sensed a foul odor. I proceeded to the front and prepared for the service. Only occasionally during the service did I smell the odor.

When Jesus tells the men at the tomb of Lazarus to move the stone, Martha objects: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

But Jesus persists: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

And Lazarus comes forth.

Where is the glory of God manifested in today’s Gospel (John 11: 1-45)?

DSC00526We could easily – and rightly say – it’s in the raising of Lazarus to life. For, as St. Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is the living human being.”

Our God is a God who calls us forth to life – here in this world and in the fulfillment of God’s will in heaven.

But I wonder if the glory of God is not shown when we lovingly confront the stench of death, when we recognize that that stench is not the final word, when we call others to live in the face of death.

Is the glory of God shown in those who are not afraid of death and the stench of death – but lovingly embrace God and all God’s people?


Detail of Lazarus in a painting in the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy.

DSC00527

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