We find ourselves in the fifth Sunday of Lent, and if we look back at the readings, we can see that all the readings in Lent seem to be building up to something. They’re our crescendo in preparation for what is to come.
We remember, of course, the first Lenten Sunday: the temptations in the desert. “If you are the Son of Man, do this. If you’re really that powerful, do that” (Mt 4:1-6).
On the second Sunday, we begin to hear about who Jesus truly is. “Behold, my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” says the voice of the Father on the mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17).
The third Sunday, He reveals to us that He has the living water that truly quenches our thirst to the Samaritan woman in the first statement of “I am [the Messiah]” (Jn 4:26).
Last week, we heard another statement of I am to the blind man. “I am the light of the world” (Jn 9). Speaking, of course, to our human nature – to our blindness.
And today, we hear another I am statement: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
So let us set the tone of the scene from the Gospel of John (Chapter 11): Lazarus, one of Jesus’ best friends, has just died. What’s striking is that when they told Jesus that Lazarus was very sick, Jesus decided to wait a couple days (v. 6-7). He only started to make his way when he found out that Lazarus had already died. How could this be, if he was his friend? Martha herself confronts him, doesn’t she?
“Lord, if you had been here, he would not have died” (v. 21). She is almost challenging him, almost blaming Jesus.
– Him, whom you love so much has died, and you weren’t here. You could’ve done something.
John speaks of Jesus preparing the sign – Jesus Himself wants to reveal something. I can picture the rawness of Martha’s emotions. She’s crying for the death of a loved one, and one of his best friends was not here.
– If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.
Jesus, trying to shift her gaze, says, “your brother will rise. Do you believe that?” (v. 23-24)
– Of course I do. Eventually. In the final days; the resurrection of the dead.
– No, no, Martha – “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (v. 25-26).
See, the Resurrection is not a hypothetical event to come; the Resurrection is a person. Do you believe this?
Martha says, “Yes. I believe you are the One we’ve been waiting for; the One to come” (v. 27).
The next thing: Jesus cries. The shortest verse in the New Testament are those two words – John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Jesus cried. The word in Greek is also translated as “loud cries of tears.”
So how must have Jesus cried for the Jews to say, “look how he loved him” (v. 36)? For sure it wasn’t a tear he dried away out of the corner of his eye. Most likely, Jesus was sobbing. He was inconsolable – look how he loved him – at the death of his friend, the death of a sinner. Next thing he does – he looks for him.
“Where have you laid him?” he asks (v. 33). Most probably reminiscing Genesis when Adam and Eve fall, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). It is God who seeks us – Christ who seeks us – even in our death when we fall. Here is a God who seeks us – especially in the sacrament of the Eucharist – yearning, craving, for communion.
So Jesus approaches the tomb; the sign of death itself. Everybody is crying and the darkness of the tomb is obvious.
Martha says, “Are you sure? He’s been dead for four days” (v. 39).
It’s significant, this number of four days, because it was believed that if you were dead for two or three days, you could still come back to life. Maybe you were comatose, maybe you just had a short night and you were sleeping it out! But after four days? It was inconceivable for you to come back. It was unheard of. There was no room for life; there was no room for hope. And that is exactly when Jesus showed up – when everything seemed most bleak and dark.
Are you sure you want us to open up the tomb? He’s been dead for four days. There is a stench; the stench of death that we many times fear. Are you sure, Jesus? Can you – can you deal with that? Can you deal with death itself, and its stench, and the darkness of the tomb?
The Darkness of The Tomb
Now I’d like to reflect on two ideas: the first one is the idea of the tomb. We can also be burdened by a tomb-like existence, can’t we? The monotony at work; a weak family life; a dying spiritual life; a bored existence. It’s as though we’re craving true life. Yes, we have life but we don’t have that Joy, that Hope, that Love. It’s like we’re not truly alive. We have life, but we yearn to be alive. We’re surrounded by pessimism, sadness, and loneliness – the darkness of the tomb pervading us.
Just imagine this:
There was a couple in a small village in Germany – Catholics by name, but passive in their faith, never making time to pray either individually or as a couple, to go to confession or to serve their neighbors and their community, or even to develop a personal friendship with Christ. After many years of wanting a child, God finally blessed them with one baby girl. They loved her dearly. They even had her baptized – but only because that’s “what you do.” While she was still young, the child became terribly sick, suffered very much, and died. The couple, needless to say, was devastated. Their sorrow turned to bitterness, and their bitterness to anger. They came to speak to the priest.
“We’ve been wanting a child for so many years. God finally gives us one, and this is what He does? He allows her to have a terrible illness and die so young? If God loves us so much, why does He allow these things to happen? If God loves me, where is she now?”
The priest said, “God does indeed love you, and His taking your baby daughter to heaven is a special sign of that love.”
“’A special sign’?” they say sarcastically. “We refuse to believe that. No!”
“Listen,” the priest said. “A good shepherd prepared a delicious feast for his sheep, but when he opened the sheep pen, they wouldn’t come and eat it. So he called, he whistled, he sang, and he danced, but still they just kept wandering further away. Finally, the shepherd went in, picked up the little lamb, carried it out into the pen, and set it down next to the food. When the other sheep saw the little lamb eating hungrily, they all made their way to enjoy the feast. That,” the priest says, “is what God has done with you. Till now, you always refused to prepare yourselves to come to the great feast He prepared for you. No matter how many invitations, no matter how many times He’s looked for you. You have been giving so much attention to your earthly comforts that you have neglected the care of your souls. Now He has taken your child, whom you loved so much, so that you will find yourselves inspired to follow Christ here on Earth. And so you can follow your daughter into heaven.”
Like this couple, we can also find ourselves in a tomb-like form of life – surrounded by that darkness, not knowing where to go, not finding that true fulfillment that we crave so much.
The Bondage on Our Hands and Feet
The second element: Lazarus was tied. Jesus cried out in a loud voice. Note that the Gospel writer emphasizes it is a loud voice. A thundering voice, perhaps like the one he used when he was dying on the cross.
“Lazarus, come out!” (v. 43) It is the very voice of God that challenges death; the voice of Life that brings shivers to our bodies; the voice that death does not have the last word; the voice the cries out in the darkness of the tomb – come out. And Lazarus comes out. But he is still tied up in hand and feet.
See, after Lazarus heard the thundering voice of Jesus – come out – we could’ve heard another voice saying, “I can’t, I’m tied up!” It seems to me, friends, that so often we focus on what has us tied up that we don’t want to hear the voice of Christ – that we’d rather remain in the tomb tied up.
And we can be tied up in so many ways. Perhaps you’ve suffered greatly in a past experience. Perhaps you’ve been wounded and that has tied you up. Perhaps you have this anger inside you – a sadness or loneliness that keeps you tied up. Maybe you’re suffering through an addiction or an illness that has you tied up and makes you believe you cannot follow Christ. And we end up placing more faith in the bonds that tie us than in the voice that challenges us to come out.
He is calling you and me to come out of the tomb – to let go of the fear or the faith that we have in our bonds and place our faith on the voice that compels us. It’s as though the voice of Christ, the voice of the Resurrection, the voice of Life is saying, “stop focusing on what ties you and start focusing on who’s calling you – the voice of Life itself, the voice of Resurrection – then you will see the wonders. You will see Christ when you thought you were dead.”
I ask you – I ask myself – how would you live your life in your Christian faith if you were unbound by those ties? How would your life change? If we stop focusing on those ties and focus on Christ compelling us to life, can you imagine how life would be radically transformed? Christ has not given up on us. His power has not diminished over the centuries. The thundering voice of God is just as strong right now as it was back then. It calls us by name, COME OUT!
Jean Baptiste Jouver – The Raising of Lazarus
That is what he promises us. Life. And like Martha, he asks us, do you believe this? Do you believe that he is greater than the tomb that ties? We have been given a marvelous opportunity to be unbound and untombed. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation – when we allow ourselves to be healed, to be consoled by Him who is Life – we are resurrected and learn to walk again, focusing our gaze on Christ. We find the life we crave for only in the voice of Christ and His word.
In Christ, the stench of death cannot hold.
In Christ, the darkness of the tomb cannot stand.
In Christ, any binding factor that we may have on our hands and our feet is loosened.
Isn’t that what the second reading says? “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8:8‑11). If the Spirit of Jesus dwells in you. It is a challenge for us to continue to walk our life of faith in the spirit; to walk with Christ, that His spirit may dwell in us.
This week, let us ask the Spirit of Christ – the same Spirit who raised Lazarus from the grave; the same Spirit who calls us by name to come out – to fill us with life, that we may hear the word of Christ calling us out into the open, into the light, to Jesus Christ.