Our Lord tells us a story of two men, two completely different men. They had different blessings in this life, different circumstances, different prospects for the future, different comforts, and as it tuns out, different eternities after death. We are told the one was a rich man, as he says, “A man clothed in purple and fine linen.” Purple was expensive, extremely so, there is a reason this color is associated with royalty. In the ancient world the dye used could only be found in a small mollusk in the Tyre region of the Mediterranean Sea. To see someone clothed in purple is to see someone with money, a lot of money. As such a wealthy man he dined on the finest meals, he ate only the best and richest foods. Poised opposite this rich man was a man named Lazarus. Lazarus was poor, as exceedingly poor as the rich man was rich. Now, it is interesting that the rich man is not named but the poor one is. The name Lazarus comes from the Hebrew Eleazar which means, “God has helped.” So, while the rich man is eating sumptuous meals and dressed in purple, the one name “God has helped” is sitting at his gate longing to eat the crumbs which fall from his table. As if this was not bad enough, he is covered with sores and the dogs are licking them.
The differences between these two men could hardly be more distinct. One is rich, one poor, one seemingly in good health, and the other deteriorating in disease and starvation. The one is a man of means, who could certainly go where he wanted to go, do whatever he wanted to do. He lived a life of luxury. The other one, well did you notice Lazarus did not end up at the rich man’s gate by accident? He did not just happen upon the place. No, the text says he was laid there. That is, he was placed there by someone else. There is a world of difference, a chasm between them which seems to only get wider as time goes on. We see similar things in our own life. We all know the phrase: “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” It seems to be the case most of the time, does it not? There often seems to be a chasm between those who have success and happiness in this life and those who are beat down over and over again. This is so much so that those who end up poor and broken and unable to do for themselves could never image becoming the rich man in fine purple clothing. And if you were to wonder just who it is God has helped, I doubt anyone would pick the poor sickly beggar.
But then death comes to these men. It was probably a shock to the rich man but no doubt a relief for Lazarus. We are told Lazarus is carried by angles to the side of Abraham, to the place of rest, to eternal paradise. He has no more torment, no more grief, no more hunger and weakness and open sores for the dogs to lick. The rich man, however, ends up in a very different place. He is in Hades, in a place of eternal torment. As if this was not bad enough, part of the torment of the place he ends up is that he can see Paradise and Lazarus resting. He can see what he cannot possess. He calls out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” For him, just a drop of cool water falling from the finger of Lazarus would be a blessing in his torment.
But it is not to be. As there was a chasm of difference between these men in life, here in the afterlife there is a literal chasm of separation. “Child,” says Abraham, “remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” The realities of the temporal life do not transfer over into the age to come. Here in the afterlife, we can see the poor man is truly one whom God has helped. Yet, here there is finality, there is no going back, there is an unbridgeable chasm between Heaven and Hell.
Now, when we hear this story, when we contemplate this image, it is difficult to remain apathetic about this life. The first striking reality is how this age is not eternal, and this age does not carry over to the next. There can be sudden and shocking reversals. But at least in this age, at least for our time here and now, we know the chasm has not yet been fixed, the chasm of separation is not finalized, we are not stuck looking across to the other without any means of crossing over. This is seen in the rich man’s desire to have Lazarus rise from the dead to warn his brothers of the eternal reality of torment he faces. It is not too late for them, and so it is not too late for us. Therefore, we stand on the edge of the chasm in hopes of making it across while we still have time.
One side is the side we know too well, the side we are comfortable with, the side shaped and formed by our own desires and dreams. Here we have built our homes, established our routines, and the cobbled together the gods we serve. Here on this side, you have all the things which provide you meaning and security in this life. I am not saying it is a life of ease or convenience, but it is one that gives you a sense of control. Of course, the other side is nothing short of perfection. It is a life where you do not get to build your own homes based on your ideals and desires. No, it is a place of divine perfection, where every deviation from the will of God is magnified and condemned. Yet, on that side is the promise of eternal life, the promise of Paradise, but to cross over from your world of sin and selfishness to the place of perfect order is difficult at best.
You stand at the edge and look down into the chasm between these two sides and you get a good look at the work cut out for you. What must you do to cross form one side to the other? What sort of life must you live? What will it cost you? What will you have to give up? Perhaps you start down into the chasm. You begin by trying to get rid of the easy sins, the things you know full-well are wrong, the thoughts, words, and actions God will never tolerate in His Paradise. You start to clean things up, but the chasm keeps going down. Under each sin you find seven more lurking in every shadow. When you bring them into the light you find there is only more to cause you despair. Soon you realize the demands of love and compassion, which are a mark of paradise, are beyond your reach. So, instead of pressing on into the darkness of the chasm, you retreat to what is comfortable, back to what you know, back to a life you know. Perhaps you will try again tomorrow, perhaps not, but time is ticking away. You are stuck, condemned in your sin.
The ability to bridge the chasm is beyond any of us. To be rescued, to find assurance that you will enter paradise, must come from outside of you, outside of your work or wisdom. Your hope rests not in your own abilities but in Christ alone. Christ is the One, the only one who bridges the chasm for our life of sin and corruption to His place of eternal glory. And He does not bridge the chasm by leading an expedition down into the darkness, by revealing to you the correct pathway for you to follow. He is not yet another lawgiver directing you where to step next, so you do not fail along the way. No, He delivers you whole and complete from one side to the other. Christ is the totality of your salvation taking you from despair to assurance.
Abraham says the hope for the rich man’s brothers is to go to the Word of God. When we go there, we find the shocking promise of a God who bridges the chams between Heaven and Hell. We find the call, the gift, and the promise of Baptism. In the waters of Baptism, you are connected to the gifts of God. There the bridge is established. There you die in Christ and rise to a new life. There you hear Saint Paul declare, “It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” The chasm is bridged not by your work but by the gifts of Christ, gifts which are given freely to you, poured over your heads, and proclaimed into your ears. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are the baptized and so, you are inheritors of eternal life.