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Father James Martin ,Evening meditation: “Lazarus.”

Father James Martin

Evening meditation: “Lazarus.”

As many of you know, David Bowie died last night. What you may not know is that shortly before his death he released a meditation on life, death and, it seems to me, resurrection, in a song (and video) entitled “Lazarus.” Mr. Bowie had been suffering for the past 18 months from cancer, and so when he made this video, released a few days ago, he knew death was imminent.

Most Christians, even many non-Christians, know the story of the Raising of Lazarus as told in the Gospel of John. Mary and Martha, two of Jesus’s close friends, who live in the town of Bethany, near Jerusalem, send word that their brother is ill. But they don’t say “Our brother Lazarus is ill,” or even “Lazarus of Bethany is ill.” Instead they say, “He whom you love is ill.” It’s a sign of the deep affection that Jesus has for the man. Jesus waits several days before traveling to Bethany, where he is confronted by the two sisters who say to him, separately, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus then is brought to the tomb, where he weeps openly. Then he stands at the tomb, asks for the stone to be rolled away, and calls out, “Lazarus, come forth!” The dead man emerges, “his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” And Jesus says to the crowd, “Untie him, and let him go.”

In his video, David Bowie, who like Lazarus is bandaged, sings, “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now.” In the first part of the video, Bowie writhes in his bandages in a hospital bed; in the second part “another” Bowie stands and dances, freed from his bandages, in the same room. At the close of the video he enters into a dark closet.

The video is rich with imagery, and will speak to people in various ways.

For me it’s a complex image of life, death and the afterlife. (As well as sight and blindness: as he lays in bed, his eyes are covered by small metal bolts, which may call to mind stories of Jesus’s healing of the blind.) Much of the video resonated deeply with me. On the one hand, one will indeed enter into God’s presence carrying with us all the “drama” of our lives. One will also be welcomed into the presence of those who know us, and into a place where we will be known fully, by God. And one will be freed of the limitations of physical pain and of the confining “bandages” of our existence.

On the other hand, the “scars,” I believe, will be seen by those in heaven, God included. For nothing is lost to God. We are welcomed, scars and all. Remember that when Jesus returns from the dead he shows his disciples his physical wounds, his scars. The Risen One carries in himself, and on himself, the experiences, visible and invisible, of his humanity.

At the close of the video, Bowie recedes into a dark closet. It’s a reverse image of conclusion of the story of Lazarus, who, in the Gospels emerges from a dark tomb into the light. (Needless to say, it may be a Johannine image, a nod to Bowie’s sexuality, or something else entirely.)

It’s not surprising that someone would struggle with issues of illness, death and the afterlife. Even believers do. And I’m not sure what Bowie’s religious or spiritual beliefs were. But it’s a gift when an artist shares himself or herself with the world in so personal and creative a way, particularly in the midst of the final struggle.

“Oh I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird,” he sings. “Oh I’ll be free/Ain’t that just like me?”

As an artist, David Bowie always confounded expectations. Perhaps, like most of us, he struggled with a God who confounded him near the end. Now may that same God surprise him. With new life.

May he be untied and let go.