Is it fair to call Lazarus’ resurrection the second-biggest resurrection in the Bible? If you’re going by volume, absolutely. John devotes an entire chapter, 57 verses long, to Lazarus’ death, return from the dead, and the fallout of his resurrection. The only resurrection that gets more scriptural air time is, of course, Jesus’ own. And coming back from the dead is kind of a big deal in itself, so Lazarus’ return is a big deal among big deals.
Just as the transfiguration divided the gospel of Luke in half, so it divides Matthew. It’s a momentous, supernatural event that marks a shift in the narrative no matter which gospel you’re reading it in. And when you reach Matthew’s account of the transfiguration here in chapter 17, you know you’re not too far from the endgame in Jerusalem, in part because it suddenly starts hitting the disciples: hey, there’s going to be an endgame in Jerusalem.
The bulk of today’s chapter is a prophecy of judgment. At some future day, God promises, he will use Judah and Jerusalem as an instrument of his justice, inflicting on those who oppose his people the due penalty for their evil. He uses a number of analogies to paint the prophetic picture: Judah will be like a cup of wine causing inebriation, a stone too heavy to lift, a firepot setting the surrounding wood on fire. But as the chapter concludes, we come to what appears to be a Messianic prophecy.
The last time we saw the Sad Zone–also known as the Cry Hole–it was on an individual level, yet it was the subject of a song to be performed in a communal religious context. Today, though, the prophet Joel begins his message to Israel by calling for a nationwide Sad Zone.
One of my sophomore year college courses featured extensive reading and discussion from the Bible. I remember in one class, we were struggling to get our heads around some New Testament passage dealing with sin and death. Attempting to shed some light on the issue, one of the professors recalled the first few chapters of Genesis, commenting on when God lays down the penalty for disobedience on Adam and Eve: “It’s as if God’s saying, ‘Hey, you’re gonna have to suffer.'” Something about that clicked for me. We live in a fallen world. Of course we’re going to suffer.
From 2002 to 2004, I attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. Every student, among other things, had to take freshman chorus: we all had to learn to sing. One of the songs we sung was an arrangement of the first verse of Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Zion.” This version, performed by Ensemble Sottovoce and written by Philip Hayes (1737-1797), is the arrangement I’m familiar with, but my Youtube-combing turned up several other versions, including one by Don “American Pie” Mclean, one from Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary Choir that uses a traditional Eastern Orthodox melody, and this performance by Trinity Church of England High School, which is absolutely haunting and would not be out of place in a Metroid game. As we’ve seen, the texts of the psalms are ripe for musical adaptation, and Psalm 137 is no exception.
I remember one occasion when I was six or seven that my family went to visit my grandmother in Georgia. We arrived fairly late at night, and as sometimes happens to tired six-year-olds, I had become inexplicably sad. The whole world just seemed to have a blue shade drawn over it. And when we arrived at my grandmother’s house, I told her, “I’m feeling down tonight. I don’t really feel like having fun.” But grandmothers are magical, and within fifteen minutes she had me laughing and carrying on with her and my brother. She’d lifted my blues.