When Lazarus left his charnel-cave,
And home to Mary’s house return’d,
Was this demanded—if he yearn’d
To hear her weeping by his grave?
‘Where wert thou, brother, those four days?’
There lives no record of reply,
Which telling what it is to die
Had surely added praise to praise.
From every house the neighbours met,
The streets were fill’d with joyful sound,
A solemn gladness even crown’d
The purple brows of Olivet.
Behold a man raised up by Christ!
The rest remaineth unreveal’d;
He told it not; or something seal’d
The lips of that Evangelist.
Yes, the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John is so strange that it has probably always aroused questions. I do not think it happened and my questions are therefore about John’s purpose. Tennyson seems to have believed it happened, although given his scepticism about God, I’m surprised he did. His questions are about the logic of the story. Did the dead Lazarus want to hear his sister weeping, or did Jesus who took his time getting there, want her to experience mourning? Where was Lazarus for four days, and what did he experience if anything? Tennyson thinks that something is hidden in this story, either by Jesus or by the evangelist. His real questions are about the dead Hallam. What does resurrection really mean for the loved ones of the deceased person? Tennyson’s questions are literalistic. If life after death is asserted against scientific evidence, does it actually mean anything here and now, or is it simply a hope for the future?
I wrote dialogues with my daughter after her death, although I always admitted that these were products of my imagination. But only of my imagination? I still hope that they were more than that; but they led in any case to an ending and a farewell that recognised her unavailability to me, although she might choose to reveal herself. Jesus taught that resurrected people are no longer their time-and-space-bound selves, but are as the angels in heaven. The Buddha taught that although they might vanish in a Nirvana of no-self, they may in their compassion choose to forego their liberation in order to assist human beings in the world.