"It was inconceivable for Reverend Youngblood to talk about Christ and His miraculous powers. That kind of preaching was what drove black men from church in the first place. Where was Jesus and his hocus-pocus when ten percent of black men were unemployed, when their average life span was declining, when the leading cause of death for the young generation was murder? So Jesus goes into town and resurrects this dead dude, Reverend Youngblood could imagine his listeners asking. What does that have to do with me?

"The only strategy was to 'de-miraclize the miracle,' to speak less of the Resurrection than of its symbolism. Reverend Youngblood found in John 11 the analogues that could make the text contemporary. Bethany, a small and obscure town, resembled the Southern hamlets many of Saint Paul's members still considered home. The parentless household of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, reminded the pastor of the nonnuclear families so common in his congregation. The primacy of the sisters in dealing with Jesus struck him as akin to the overwhelming female presence in the black church, with its unspoken corollary that somehow women were closer than men to God. As for Lazarus, Lazarus was legion. . . .

[From Reverend Youngblood's sermon] "Let's be honest in this perusal of the Scriptures. Jesus arrives in Bethany. Mary and Martha are mixed in their greeting. 'We're glad you're here, Jesus, but if you'd been here sooner. If you had come when we called. If you had heeded the invitation when it was extended, Lazarus would not have died. But he's dead now. We're glad you showed up, but we've already pronounced ashes to ashes and dust to dust. He's dead.'

"Let me paraphrase it. 'Jesus, if you'd just shown up ten years ago. Jesus, if you had shown up five years ago, one year agao, six months ago, I would not have had to give up on him. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus' — I can hear us apologizing — 'don't get me wrong. We glad you here. But it doesn't matter to us anymore. If you wanna go and raise him, raise him for his sake. But I've given up. I'm not gonna put myself in the position, Jesus, to be hurt no more. I'm not gonna put myself in the position to grieve again. I'm not gonna put myself in the position to be frustrated and angered, humiliated, disappointed. Go on and do what you wanna do if you wanna do somethin'. But I ain't got nothin' to do with it.'

"Sound familiar? . . .

"Jesus said, 'Loose him, and let him go.' 'Loose him' means 'Forgive him.' We've got some forgivin' to do. Take away the fetters from his hands; let him work one more time. Take the chains off his feet; let him walk one more time. Take the napkin off his face; let him see and speak one more time.

"The reason we're here this morning is not just because a resurrection happened, but because there's one goin' on. Every time I see a brother come to Christ, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man put down his bottle, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man go back to school, there's a resurrection goin' on. Every time I see a man hug his son, there's a resurrection goin' on.

"Come forth, Lazarus. Break those chains. Throw off those fetters. Remove that napkin. Son of man, stand up on your feet."

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