This story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is so familiar I’m curious what I need to hear this Lenten season. I feel the anguish of the sisters and friends of the deceased as they watched their loved one struggle with a terminal illness, and then watch the life drain from him. I can feel their frustration when Jesus did not come at their call… hoping against all hope that he would get there in time to keep Lazarus from dying.
We’ve wandered into a scene of much confusion. Two sisters of a dead man had sent word to Jesus that his friend, their brother, was ill. Jesus is said to love the three siblings: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but he delays responding with the haste we and they might have expected. To the puzzlement of his disciples it is two days later that Jesus finally declares that he will make the journey to Bethany. His disciples fear for his life. Thomas even declares that he and the other disciples should be prepared to die with Jesus.
Jesus’ delay heightens the drama today. Because we know the end of the story, we can recognize that the delay was deliberate. Jesus had to wait until Lazarus had succumbed to his illness in order for Jesus to glorify His father through Lazarus’ resurrection.
Many elements of the story of raising of Lazarus foreshadow the good news of Jesus’ own Resurrection. In raising Lazarus, Jesus shows his power over death so that when He dies, those who believe in him might remember that and take heart. Just as Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, so too will the disciples find the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.
Today, we see Jesus being fully human in relation to his friends. This relationship was vividly portrayed In the Stations of the Cross we prayed last evening. He was able to love these people and be loved by them. They were very special to him and his relationship to them made him a more fully human being.
Maybe what is even more important for us though, as we think about this humanness of Jesus, is how he had such deep compassion. When He stood there at the tomb, He was fully aware, as we become aware when we are burying someone close to us, that they’re gone, they’re dead, Jesus wept. He sobbed because he had such intimate love with Lazarus and Martha and Mary. He shared in their suffering.
That’s important to know about Jesus, because there are those times where we have had to face the loss of someone very close to us. For some, it’s in cruel and unexpected ways. Or when someone dies after a long, slow illness, we think we are prepared but it’s still hard to accept. In all these times, we can always know that Jesus shares our suffering and our sorrow and he weeps with us.
The other sign in today’s reading that is important is what Martha says about Jesus, “Yes, I know you are the Christ, the son of the living God. You’re the messiah, the anointed one, the one who is filled with the divinity of God.“
So we have the mystery of Jesus, fully human, one like us in every way except sin and yet also fully God. He tells Martha, “Lazarus will rise again.” And Martha says, “Well, I know that!’ But she misunderstands Jesus. She thinks He’s talking a time in the far distant future, at the end of time, that Lazarus will rise. That’s when Jesus says to us the most important thing for us to hear today: “I am the resurrection and the life, not just at the end of time but right now. Anyone who believes in me will live. If you believe in me now, you will never die. You have the life of God in you. The spirit of Jesus lives within you now.”
And, notice the sequence of events: Jesus has conversation with the two sisters, elicits a state of belief, asks the guys standing around to roll away the stone … but Lazarus does not magically appear – his friends don’t enter the tomb to walk him out – Jesus, cries out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!” When we’ve buried ourselves beneath our doubts, our short-comings, our shame or guilt, from our family, our friends, our community – they can try all sorts of interventions including prayer … dispatch Benedict’s Senpectae, a member of mature years and wisdom to secretly console and counsel the distressed or disturbed member – but until we hear, recognize and respond to the voice of Jesus calling: “Come out!” what binds us can’t be untied. We can’t “go free at another’s bidding alone.” We have to close the gap to the hand reaching out to us.
We are wise to make a special effort to be in touch with that spirit of Jesus who assures us: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will never die. And if you live and believe in me, you will have life forever” Jesus assures us. What grave have I dug for myself? Who will roll the stone for me? In the recently released remake of the movie “Beauty and the Beast,” one of characters asks (actually sings):[ “How does a moment last a lifetime?” ??] This is what happens when we dare to reach out to close the abyss we’ve created to be in touch with that spirit of Jesus who is within.
Like Thomas said to his companions: “Let us go with him.” Let’s go with Jesus and follow his way, the way of forgiveness, the way of love, the way of compassion, the way of goodness. Don’t we promise that with our corporate commitment? Let us then go with Jesus these last two weeks of Lent to discover the real love and life that can come to us through being joined to him by following his way – the way of nonviolence, peace, compassion and love. We question ourselves: how can I live my life as a trusting witness to my faith and the embodiment of the sentiments expressed in our mission and corporate commitment?