Intention: For peace and compassion in our hearts, that they may rise to help heal whatever distress or fear we feel during these difficult times.
Today’s Gospel | John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
The sisters Mary and Martha sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your close friend Lazarus is ill.” When Jesus heard this, he replied, “The illness of Lazarus isn’t the end of him. It’s really for the glory of God! And, through this illness, God’s Son will receive glory.” Now, Jesus really liked Martha, her sister Mary, and brother Lazarus. But, when he heard Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed where he was. Two days later, Jesus finally told his followers, “Let’s go to Judea.”
When Jesus arrived at Bethany in Judea, Martha and Mary’s hometown, he found out Lazarus was dead. He had been buried four days before. Martha heard Jesus had come to town. So, she went to met him, while her sister Mary remained at home. “Lord!” Martha exclaimed. “If you would have been here earlier, my brother wouldn’t have died! But even now I know whatever you ask God to do, he will do it!” “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus replied. “Yes,” Martha said. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” “I am the resurrection and the life!” Jesus exclaimed. “The person who trusts me will live with God, even though his body dies. Everyone who trusts me and lives with God will never really die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” Martha answered. “I really believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God! God sent you into the world for us.”
Jesus was deeply touched. “Where did you bury Lazarus?” he asked the people around him. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. At this, Jesus cried. “See how much Lazarus meant to Jesus,” they whispered to each other. But others grumbled, “Jesus cured the blind man in Jerusalem. Why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?”
The tomb where Lazarus was buried was a cave with a large stone over the entrance. When Jesus came to the tomb, he again was deeply touched. “Take the stone away!” Jesus commanded. “But, Lord!” Martha objected. “We buried him four days ago. He will have the stench of death!” “Didn’t I tell you if you trusted me you would see the glory of God?” Jesus replied. So, they took the stone away from the tomb entrance. Jesus looked up and prayed, “Father, thank you for listening to me, as you always do. I say this prayer, so the people here might believe you sent me.” Then, Jesus cried in a loud voice, “Lazarus! Come out here!” Lazarus came out of the tomb with his hands and feet tied in burial bandages, and with his face covered with a cloth shroud. “Untie him,” Jesus commanded.
Many of the people who came to Mary’s house saw what Jesus did. And they put their trust in him.
A Lenten Reflection
The story of the raising of Lazarus is an extraordinary narrative, not only because of its miraculous conclusion, but also because of the richness of its individual scenes. There is Jesus with his almost blasé reaction to the news that a good friend is near death. Then there he is again, but now overcome with near-surprise and real emotion over his friend’s passing. Finally, it is Jesus once more, this time rewriting the laws of nature by bringing his friend back to life. Each could be a story in itself. But, of the three episodes, it is the second that perhaps has the most to say to us. For in it, we find Jesus at his most relatable. We can see ourselves in him as he mourns, and then as he finds solace in gathering with loved ones. By first drawing out this moment, and then placing it back into its larger context, we can reflect on its lesson to us about the necessity of grieving.
Why grieve? Why, as some might view it, helplessly give in to sadness? As we see in this Gospel narrative, grieving is not just about catharsis, but is the way in which we pull together the experience of tragedy so that it serves the larger journey of life. For Jesus, the moment when he felt and expressed his sadness, first, made real what had before just been a distant rumor, easy to deny or dismiss. Then, it moved him to choose what would be his full response to loss, which was to overcome it. For Jesus, as for us, the faith-filled role of grief is that it can stitch our brokenness to God’s promise of transcendence, an act in which we find the perspective and resolve to deal with tragedy by removing its power over us.
Reflecting on the death of her husband, journalist Anne Roiphe wrote, “Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Recognizing that nothing on earth is forever is a necessary lesson to learn, but so is recognizing that this includes those things that we perhaps write off as final and irretrievable. While we might not be able, as Jesus did, to restore a dead person back to life, we can resurrect those pieces of us that succumb to the deaths of daily life by reconnecting them to the eternal source of all life. Lent is a time for embracing our tears as teachers that can lead us to understanding the meaning of joy.
Eternal Father, your Son taught that we should not judge lest we ourselves be judged. During this holy time of Lent, we give thanks for the opportunities to learn to live with compassion. When we see others stumble or fall, let us be present to them and determined to help without judging. Let us seek only to make others’ well-being the object of our concern and to love completely, even when we do not completely understand. Teach us to give of ourselves in humility, trust, and care. We ask this of you who lives and reigns with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.