Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a shroud.
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
October 11 is National Coming Out Day.
A few days ago I read a letter to the advice column, “Ask Amy,” from a young man struggling with whether or not he should “come out” to his family. They were open and accepting in general, but he was not certain how they would feel about having a gay man in the family. As he approached National Coming Out Day, he felt pressured to be honest about his identity, yet apprehensive about how his family might react. What should he do?
If I were the young man’s pastor, and he came to me with that question, my first instinct would be to tell him that October 11 is just another day. If a Coming Out Day gives him the opportunity to say what he wants to say, then that’s a good thing. If it pressures him to go beyond where he is comfortable, then it is probably a bad thing. The last thing that gay and lesbian young people need is one more pressure in their lives.
So I have real ambivalence about National Coming Out Day as it relates to the real lives of young people.
On the other hand, the symbolism is incredibly powerful. There are so many ways in which all of us, gay and straight, are living as if we were dead, and we need to hear Jesus call us by name and challenge us to come out of that living death into New Life.
The devotion below is by the Rev. Vernice Thorn, who is co-convener of “The Church Within a Church Movement,” a United Methodist group working for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons within the United Methodist Church. I think she does a great job of reflecting on the symbolism of Coming Out as it relates to all of us.
October Devotion - Coming Out to New Life
39Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, 'Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.' 40Jesus said to her, 'Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?' 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, 'Sovereign God, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.' 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go.'
In our Gospel lesson, Lazarus has died. His sisters are sure that if only Jesus had arrived earlier he could have saved Lazarus. But death has come. Death has won. Or has it? Jesus weeps and tells the sisters to believe and roll the stone away. He prays and says to the dead man, "Come out." Lazarus appears bound but alive.
What a meaningful story on the heels of a powerful justice event weekend hosted in Chicago by Church Within A Church (CWAC). This event had been plagued all year with uncertainty. Our finances were low, our support tentative, at best. Yet God continually calls us to life. God calls us to come out of our fear and to declare who we are. Even with that awareness, "coming out" is complex and never ending. I recall the Extraordinary Ordination. There was plenty of resistance from "church" leaders, who renounced and rebuked us. Nevertheless we choose life, listening to God's call to "come out". When we decided as a board to embrace anti-racism work we lost support. Yet, bound by the status quo, we did not give up, we could hear Jesus saying, "unbind them... let them go."
October 11th is National Coming Out Day. All of us have coming out stories, but I am so grateful to my gay sisters and brothers for providing the context. "Coming out" is a spiritual act. It embraces the truth of scripture that all are created equal and that God names us, each of us, and loves us. The ritual of "coming out" is a public declaration that says I am a child of God not in spite of who I am, but because of the gift of identity that God has blessed me with. It is an embracing of one's deepest and truest self, without shame and without apology. "Coming out" calls us to new life.
Coming out celebrates and empowers us to witness to our truth and to God's inclusive love. In the book Preaching Justice; A Lesbian Perspective, Christine Marie Smith speaks about claiming her truth. She says, "I knew from the time I was quite young that I was different. The early years were absolute silence, isolation and terror. Given the reality of closets for lesbian and gay people, I have been trying to find my voice, my truth, and my community much of my life. I have spent most of those years afraid: afraid of hurting my family, afraid of losing friends and colleagues, afraid of being attacked, afraid of being fired and afraid of losing my ordination. It isn't just the fear that keeps me from my voice, my truth, my life; it is the constant heavy sense that I am alien, strange, marginal. In the past few years, I no longer have feared losing my job and ordination, but even as I move my life into more public arenas as an out lesbian, anxiety, fear and strangeness persist."
On October 11th, I celebrate, "coming out", with my gay sisters and brothers and say thank you. Thank you for throwing open your closet doors and giving me the opportunity, a straight, black woman, to envision that possibility for my own life. As you have claimed your truth, so have I. As you have found your voice, so have I. As you have claimed your true, authentic self, so have I. The power of "coming out" is personal, spiritual, as well as communal. As one person or group finds the courage to "come out", it models a life-giving behavior, thus giving others' permission to do the same.
Come out! Jesus shouts to Lazarus and to us all. The power of life, the power of love is stronger than the grave, is stronger than the closet. Come out!
In Truth and Justice,
Rev. Vernice Thorn
The Church Within A Church Movement