Letter 82

DAY 82

Jaime Clark-Soles

Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor
Perkins School of Theology, SMU
April 11, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

In John 11:1-44, Mary and Martha summon Jesus when their brother Lazarus becomes gravely ill. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead, the mourners are wailing, the sisters are mired in the “if-only” game, and all hope for death to be overcome has been lost or shoved into the distant future.

Likewise, you have inherited a nation marked by death, wailing, “if-only,” and tattered hope. Against all odds, Lazarus’ story ends with resurrection and life in the here and now. Will America’s?

In this story, Jesus moves people from death to life. How?

He shows up. He doesn’t just witness their grief, he enters it: “Jesus wept” (11:35). He accompanies them to the site of their devastation and actively listens to the raw-throated voices of the ones actually experiencing the suffering first-hand. He leads them to “roll away the stone” and face a difficult truth: there is a stench (11:39).

“He doesn’t just witness their grief, he enters it: ‘Jesus wept’”

As you’ve begun to do already, may you continue to show up, listen to, and weep with our aggrieved siblings who suffer most from racism, ableism, heterosexism, and other death-dealing forces.

By the (infinite) power invested in him, Jesus raises Lazarus. But when Lazarus exits the tomb, he is still bound. He is alive, but not yet free. It may seem strange that Jesus commands the community: “Unbind him and let him go” (11:44), for Jesus could have done that himself. The lesson for us is clear: if we’re going to be an America where all are truly free, together we must be willing to remove the death wrappings with our own hands.

By the (finite) power invested in you, lead us from death to life. Show up. Weep with us. Be frank about the stench, lest we lose our sense of smell. Take life-giving action. Enlist our help.

Astonishingly, after Jesus raises Lazarus, he declares that we will do even greater works than he did (John 14:12). I believe him, and I hope you do too. Leaving behind “if-onlies” about the past and clichéd wishes for the future, we can accomplish these works here and now. Lead on.


Jaime Clark -Soles

Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles
Professor of New Testament
Perkins School of Theology | SMU

the author

Jaime Clark-Soles is Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at Perkins School of Theology, SMU, where she also directs The Baptist House of Studies. Rev. Dr. Clark-Soles is an ordained Baptist minister committed to interfaith work. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Disability and Religion and is a contributor to Disability and the Bible: A Commentary. Her books include Women in the Bible; Reading John for Dear Life; Engaging the Word; Death and the Afterlife in the New Testament; and Scripture Cannot Be Broken. She is the New Testament editor of the CEB Women’s Bible.