The chasm? An uncrossable border?
Luke 16:19-31 (NRSVA)
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’
The Church Fathers took seriously the hints about ‘Holy Saturday’ as a time when ‘hell was harrowed’, when the dead would even tell the Tempter that someone was coming who would speak good news and rescue them from his power. This story from the lips of Jesus does not deny that, but rather it suggests that some at least who die are facing in a direction where good news has no impact, or as the Reformers used to put it, “As the tree falls, so shall it lie”. That said, the story of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man and the poor beggar, is told to warn us against the blind arrogance of power and wealth in this life, not to answer speculation about the next. So let the question marks in today’s title remain simply question marks!
The story asks us all, how do we listen to the words of Jesus? The word of God is alive and active, says the writer to Hebrew Christians, crossing the borders of soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12), in other words crossing every boundary within us and between us. How do we let the stories of Jesus enter us and change us? How do we tell stories to other people that will enter and change them?
Lord Jesus, as we pray your words may enter us, delight us, change us, so we pray for those with gifts and opportunities to tell new and old stories to our age in film and printed media. May their words, their stories, their signs, their images be powerful to shape the obedience of a new age.
As we pray your kingdom may come, so we pray for all who seem to hinder your rule by the power of their position. May our land be more open to the gospel, our leaders more open to the needs of the poor. May your will be done on earth, as in heaven. Give the poor bread for today and hope for tomorrow. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Amen.