The Lazarus Effect

All Saints Day, Year B
November 1, 2011

Isaiah 25:1-10

Revelation 21:1-6

John 11:32:44

“Look!  God’s Tabernacle is among humankind!  God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them.  The Most High will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  And death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more, for the old order has fallen” (Rev 21:3-5).

Coffins from AIDS-related deaths in Njuli, Malawi, Time Magazine

According to The Global Fund, at the end of 2010, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus) worldwide (up 17 percent from 2001).  Sixty-eight percent of these people were in sub-Saharan Africa.  For millions of people, particularly in Africa, the situation – up until recently – was beyond hope.  AIDS was ravaging entire families and villages.  Health care was inaccessible to many victims, due to poverty and war.  Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died of HIV-related causes.

“The Resurrection of Lazarus,” African Mafa Art, Contemporary

In the Gospel reading for this week, the situation was thought to be beyond hope as well.  Lazarus, “whom Jesus loved,” brother of Mary and Martha, had been dead for four days from an illness.  By the time Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Martha even warned him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).  There was no reason to attempt to revive Lazarus – there was no point.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, in 2002, The Global Fund was created.  The Global Fund is a unique, public-private partnership and international financing institution dedicated to attracting and disbursing additional resources to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria.  With $22.9 billion for more than 1,000 programs in 151 countries, the Global Fund has provided AIDS treatment for 3.6 million people using Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs.  These drugs would be well outside the reach of the majority of those being treated at market prices.  Thanks to the Global Fund, they are receiving them for free.

Concillia, an African woman living with HIV, before she began taking ARV drugs

ARV drugs are nearly miraculous in their impact.  People who were written off as dead, walking skeletons, are now recovering and living normal lives thanks to these drugs.  Jesus did not give up on Lazarus, even when all indications (including the stench!) said that all was past hope.  When we collectively decide not to give up hope on each other, even when the situation seems past despair, that is when the miracle happens.  That is when God’s Tabernacle comes down among humanity in the form of human generosity, the old order of greed and death falls, and new life takes its place.

The HBO documentary, “The Lazarus Effect,” illustrates the remarkable impact that these drugs have made, as well as the community-based programs financed by the Global Fund that make them available.  Bringing the dead back to life is not something that happens “over yonder” on the Final Day.  Those written off as dead are being brought back to life by the millions every day, thanks to God acting through the human minds of scientists and the human hands of philanthropists.  All Saints Day is not just about faith that those that we love who have passed will see their reward in Heaven.  It is about bringing new life into being all around us in the here and now.  To see “The Lazarus Effect” (30 minutes) click this link.

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