Hollywood, it seems, has always been fascinated with mummies. That includes this summer’s Tom Cruise action thriller entitled, of course, The Mummy. I haven’t seen it, and don’t intend to. For one thing, critics seem to agree overall that The Mummy is…well, crummy.
But I have to confess that when I read the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11, that’s something like the image I have in my head. The Mummy Returns!
Maybe it’s because I don’t have much real-life experience with that kind of thing. But neither did anyone else who was present at the miracle.
Here’s how John so tersely describes the event:
Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” (John 11:43-44, CEB)
Two whole verses. That’s it. The event is pivotal to the gospel drama, but as we’ll see, John seems to be more interested in what happens after.
Jews didn’t embalm the dead, so the image of a mummy is a bit off the mark. Bodies were wrapped with linen; spices masked the odor of decay.
But to me at least, the details John gives have a touch of wry humor to them. Jesus shouts to Lazarus, suggesting that the man may already have been alive. Perhaps he was a bit confused. Wouldn’t you be, lying in the dark, trying to figure out where you were and how you got there? He wobbles to his feet and stumbles out of the cave, his face covered, his hands and feet hampered by the burial cloths.
And people stand rooted to the spot, slack-jawed and staring.
Why didn’t Mary, the emotional one, rush immediately to embrace her brother? Why didn’t Martha, the ever-practical one, notice right away that something needed her attention?
Jesus has to tell them to untie Lazarus and let him go. Hey, people — unwrap the guy before he falls down and hurts himself.
I wonder if he said it with a bemused grin on his face.
I imagine that a joyous reunion followed, once the initial shock had passed. With the face cloth removed, Lazarus blinked in the sunlight, and the sisters saw the face of their beloved brother. Everyone, mourners and all, went back to the house for a party.
But then the rumor mill went into overdrive.
The story of this latest and greatest sign spread among believers and unbelievers alike, including Jesus’ opponents just down the road in Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples knew it was risky coming back to Bethany, so close to the place where people had recently tried to kill him. And rather than keep a low profile, he made the most public demonstration of his identity imaginable.
He knows trouble will come of it.
That’s why he’s come.