The Lenten Season has been preparing us to enter into the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, only one week away from Holy Week, the readings bring before us the mystery of life and death, sin and faith. In particular we turn to one of Jesus’ most astounding miracles, the raising of Lazarus.
Death is not easy for us to face, or even think about. When we go to a wake, where the living visit the dead, or when we go to a cemetery or a tomb, we find ourselves facing the contradiction of death, and often we are led to think of our own death. When their brother Lazarus dies, Martha and Mary suffer the pain of losing him. In time Jesus comes to them, and he too is moved with deep emotions, of the kind which we all feel in the face of the death of a loved one. But there is a big difference: Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, and he knows that he will raise him up from death. We stand helpless in the face of death, but Jesus does not. He has power over death. Even after four days, he commands: “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus comes forth from his grave alive.
There is more at work here, and much deeper meaning, than one man having been dead and coming back to life. We have come to expect that there is more, based on the pattern we have learned over the past two Sundays. Two weeks ago we pondered the Samaritan woman at the well, and learned the difference between physical thirst and spiritual thirst. Last week, through Jesus’ cure of the man born blind, we saw the difference between physical blindness and spiritual blindness. Today the raising of Lazarus shows us the difference between physical death and spiritual death.
Even in the Old Testament, the Lord taught us to hope for life beyond death. In today’s first reading he speaks through the prophet Ezekiel about opening our graves and having us rise from them. At the time he said this, the people probably thought it was merely symbolic language. They did not expect anyone to literally come up from the grave. Even today, such things are the subject of nightmares and horror movies. But Ezekiel’s prophecy is not about terrifying zombies rising in the night. He proclaims a beautiful restoration, a new hope, in which God’s own Spirit will give us new life and security.
When Jesus comes to Lazarus’ tomb, he means to fulfill this prophecy both literally and spiritually. He reveals himself as the Lord of life. He is the source of all our hope as we face the disturbing enigma of death, our own death and that of others. By deliberately waiting until after his friend died, Jesus shows that he has not come into the world to save us from dying physically. We will all die. Even Lazarus will eventually have to die again. What the Lord wants to teach us is the way to eternal life, life that extends beyond death. The way is through faith in him. He performs this miracle of raising Lazarus so that we may believe.
All life comes as a gift from God. Still, we must do our part to claim the gift. We must believe: “Whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die.” Jesus asks us today: “Do you believe this?” We must each search our own heart to see if we truly believe this. It is striking that Jesus puts Martha on the spot to make her confession of faith while she is still grieving the death of her brother. She rises to the occasion and teaches us the correct answer: “Yes, Lord, I believe!” Even before Lazarus emerges from the tomb, Martha professes that she believes, because she trusts in the word of Jesus, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
If we believe, then we are called also to live as followers of Christ. Belief is not only in words but in actions as well. Every day we die and rise, dying to sin and to everything that leads to sin, rising in the new life of Christ. This process is at the core of our observance of Lent. If we are not dying, we cannot experience being raised up by Christ. We do not live in fear of death because our faith assures us of new life. As St. Paul proclaims to the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Do I fully believe in Jesus’ power over physical and spiritual death? When do I find it difficult to trust in the word of the Lord? Do I place all hope in the new life and security given by the Spirit?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.