The story of the raising of Lazarus is probably very familiar to most of us. It can sometimes be challenging for us to look at a Gospel story from a different perspective, but that is what I tried to do when I read through today’s Gospel last week. When I read through the Gospel, I tried to look at all the words that stood to me.
The first word that caught my eye was the verb “remain”. When Jesus was told that his dear friend Lazarus was very ill, he decided to remain in place where he was for two days before he went to visit Lazarus and his sisters in Judea. Why would Jesus remain where he was if he loved Lazarus and his family so much? Why wouldn’t he have rushed there right away? Jesus says that Lazarus’ illness is to be used for the glory of God, that he as the Son of God may be glorified and may be revealed through this event. Yet Martha exclaims – Lord – if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!!! We may feel that same way, too, at different moments in our lives. We may feel that God has been delaying his arrival at our own side, that terrible things would not have happened if God had been there. There may have been times on our Lenten journey this year where we have lamented God’s absence in our lives, where we have not felt his presence with us when we needed him the most.
And then there are words of raw, honest emotion that come out of Jesus. When Jesus sees Martha and the Jews with her weeping at Lazarus’ death, he is perturbed and he is deeply troubled. But what is Jesus perturbed and troubled about? It hard to know exactly what Jesus is angry about, but perhaps it concerns the existence of death and suffering in our world that has been brought about by original sin and by the work of Satan. It was due to this sinful condition that Jesus came into the world in human form, that he began his ministry and his proclamation of God’s kingdom. And this is why we accompany Jesus each year during Lent as he makes his way to his death on a cross.
Then, Jesus himself weeps - boy does that word stick out. This is from one of the shortest verses in the New Testament – John 11:35 - “And Jesus wept.” I don’t think that Jesus was weeping because of Martha’s lack of understanding, because of her attempts to understand her faith and to understand who Jesus really is. Perhaps Jesus is weeping because of the way he identifies with the pain that they are experiencing at the death of Lazarus, even though Jesus knows that he will soon raise Lazarus up to new life. Perhaps Jesus is weeping at the way the people don’t see God’s redemption and salvation and power intersecting with the reality of their daily lives. Jesus shares in our human emotions, in our pain, and in our suffering.
At the tomb, Jesus issues this loud command: “Lazarus – come out!” Out of the darkness and into the light of God, Jesus commands Lazarus to rise to new life and to come out of the tomb. We are to come out of our own tombs as well, out of the darkness that enslaves us and weighs us down. God wants us to come out into his light, to live in the light of his kingdom. On our Lenten journey, we are called to come out of the margins and the shadows and to carry our crosses with Jesus, to accompany him as he carries his own cross.
Although Jesus commands Lazarus into the light, he also commands the others in the crowd – “Untie him! Unbind him!” Take the bands off his hands and his feet! Take the clothe off his face! God brings us into the light of his kingdom, but we have a responsibility as well. We are to work toward proclaiming his kingdom, to proclaiming a world of justice and peace through our words and our actions. What are the bands and the clothes that we see that are restraining ourselves and binding up our brothers and sisters? What are we to do to help set them free?
Our Lenten journey is all about looking at our lives in perhaps a different way, in looking at the way we need to repent and renew ourselves and to change our hearts. Jesus uses the different healings and miracles recorded in the Gospels to teach us about God’s kingdom and about his true identity. Think about the stories we’ve heard in the last few weeks of Lent – the Samaritan woman at the well who becomes a believer, the blind man who gains not only physical sight but also spiritual sight, and then today’s raising of Lazarus from the dead.
As we get close to the end of our Lenten journey, our parish’s reconciliation service is coming up this week. Some of you may not have been to the sacrament of reconciliation for a while. Some of you we be a little nervous or apprehensive about going to this sacrament, or perhaps you are thinking that you might not have time for it in your busy schedule. However, I want to encourage all of you to come out for it. We are going to have a lot of different priests here to hear your confessions – Fr. Albeen, Fr. Henry, Fr. Vince and Fr. Anthony from Aberdeen, and Fr. Rich Smith from Corinth. We would really like to have a great showing, and this will be a big part of your Lenten journey.
The raising of Lazarus is sign of God’s kingdom, a foretaste of the glory of the resurrection that awaits us on Easter morning. May this story speak to us to day as we enter into the last couple of weeks of our Lenten journey.