March 2002

Lazarus in us ©

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus after four days in the tomb poses several intriguing challenges to the inquiring mind.

Why did he not rush to the scene upon hearing of his friend’s death? Why did he stay two days longer in the place where he was? Why did Thomas say to the other disciples: Let us go, that we may die with him? Why did Jesus say that Lazarus had merely fallen asleep? And, if so, why did he weep? If he had the power to raise a man from the dead, why did he need to command others to take away the stone and unbind him and let him go?

Of course, there are classic responses to all these questions.

By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus has been dead four days, the point at which rabbis claimed no trace of the soul remained in the body. Decomposition had set in. So, it was at this point that Jesus could most dramatically demonstrate the glory of God’s power over death. No one could have believed this to be possible without the intervention of God.

By this miracle, his third raising of a dead person, God would be glorified and the Son of God may be glorified through it. Though Jesus had already raised the daughter of Jairus and the widow of Nain’s son, the raising of Lazarus has special significance both in terms of the intensity of Jesus’ actions and the proximity it has to his own resurrection.

In effect, Jesus will be glorified in two ways. The raising of Lazarus will glorify him, but the miracle will bring about his death, by which he will also be glorified.

But it is the compassionate and healing Jesus who strikes us most vividly: Your brother will rise again.

There is an important teaching in the consoling words of Jesus. He distinguishes between physical death and another more grievous death. He asserts that this illness will not end in death, which is the damnation of the soul. This is the death caused by mortal sin, and which brings the apostle Paul to say that the sting of death is sin.

Indeed, John Paul II writes in Crossing the Threshold of Hope: “Through the work of the Redeemer, death ceases to be an ultimate evil; it becomes subject to the power of life.”

By faith and tradition, we know that for saints physical death is in effect the greatest day of their lives because it marks their glorious entry into the fullness of Eternal and Infinite Love – union with God.

In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, we find these words: The hour is coming when all those lying in tombs will hear my voice and come out. Those who have done good deeds shall rise to live.

In this eleventh chapter, Thomas seems to understand the power of this new life in wishing to join Lazarus in death. In fact, each of us enters into this death with baptism and with each act of conversion…with each painful act of dying to the sin that brings us false comfort.

Why did Jesus weep? To love is to be vulnerable. Jesus had compassion for his friends Mary and Martha, just as he later showed compassion for Jerusalem gripped by the tentacles of sin. To this day, Jesus cries our tears, just as he laughs our laughter.

Why did Jesus command others to do remove the heavy stone that sealed the entrance to the burial cave? In fact, in most miracles performed by Jesus, someone had to do something: fill jars, lower nets, distribute loaves and fishes. This speaks volumes about the way God works. God uses others as the instruments of his saving grace. And it’s not like getting your house cleaned while you lie in bed reading a novel. God requires our participation in his saving action. His power; our consent.

True as these statements may be, however, I think they detract us from the underlying purpose of this event that prefigures the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. In fact, it appears in John’s gospel immediately before his account of the Lord’s Passion.

This is the seventh sign-miracle of John’s gospel…the last. To gain a better appreciation of its value, it is useful to enter into the scene in meditative prayer.

One useful technique is to imagine ourselves in the scene. While we could profitably allow ourselves to experience the scene from the perspective of Mary, Martha, Jesus, another friend or relative, or an idle by-stander, the scene comes alive the moment we begin to image ourselves to be Lazarus himself.

Tightly bound by strips of linen cloth, we have lost the freedom of movement. We can no longer see, hear, smell, touch or feel. Warmth has left us and we have begun to rot under the power of death.

After a time of utter helplessness, a voice seeps through the cloth shrouding our head. We become aware that though we appear to have died, we still exist and that our name is still a symbol of our unique existence.

We find the voice to be mysteriously compelling. Even though we have begun to find a strange comfort in our new state, we slowly discover the energy to rise and move toward the source of that call.

We begin to distinguish forms as though we had never seen before; to perceive sweet smells that had previously escaped our notice; to hear the joyous sound of awe and wonder.

We move closer to the source of the call and begin to see what the apostles saw at the Transfiguration…a glowing presence, the very essence of life itself. His warm smile heals our wounds; his eyes penetrate directly into and fuse with the very core of our being…Christ within us.

Then his voice is raised with its mysterious blend of anger and gentleness. John tells us that Jesus was at once greatly disturbed and deeply moved. He commands: “Loose him; let him go.” He appears to be speaking to those around us, but he is speaking to Satan himself, the prince of death. The anger was for his ears. You might even say that Jesus was fed up with the intrusion of Satan in the lives of those he loves. The gentleness in his voice was for our ears. We too are the beloved.

This is more than a cute story with a happy ending. It is even more than an illuminating story about gospel living. There is a critical lesson for us in the raising of Lazarus. By it, Jesus tells you and me – each one of us – that he grieves over the suffering that sin stirs in us, and – perhaps more importantly – that his victory over the death that it causes is not for himself, but for us. We are Lazarus. And Jesus is our Resurrection and our Life. In him we find life itself…now and ever after.

Let’s see if the Easter bunny can top that!

Lenten Unity

Perhaps the most powerful weapon Satan has in his lethal arsenal is his ability to divide us,

thus blocking the Light of the One who loves us unconditionally.

With God’s grace, it is time for impatience.

It is time for our hearts to speak simply

And louder than the convoluted rhetoric of the mind.

It is time to say to Satan: Enough.

It is time to say to the prince of darkness:

God’s Light will overcome you. You will not succeed.

It is time to say to the prince of illusion:

Gratitude is more powerful than bitterness;

Generosity, more potent than greed.

It is time to say to the prince of deceit:

We have found the truth at the crib and the cross.

It is time to say to the prince of discord:

The Way is to forgive.

It is time to say to the prince of despair:

Our faith is in hope; our hope, in Love.

It is time to say to the prince of fear:

Death, where is your sting?

Unity will prevail, in the Oneness of God,

if we have hearts to see God’s will for it on earth as it is in heaven.