Monday, 4 April 2011

5th Sunday of Lent - Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

Jesus stands before the tomb of Lazarus: a cave with a stone to close the opening. There are tears in his eyes. Not long now and he will be the one in a cave and there will also be a stone to close the opening.

That’s the thing about death, isn’t it? It takes us prisoner, into the darkness, and locks us away forever until every trace of our human selves has disappeared. It destroys us.

The painful journey to that day still lies before Jesus but, in a way, he is standing before his own tomb, gazing at his own future. I wonder what is going through his mind?

This miracle of the raising of Lazarus was no ordinary miracle. It was the final one before his own death; it was the one they would use against him to justify the killing. And Jesus knew it. Didn’t he say to his disciples a few days ago: This sickness will not end in death but … through it the Son of God will be glorified? He knew his turn was coming, that he would soon be ‘glorified’ on the Cross.

They were right, those ‘some’ who said: …could he not have prevented this man’s death? He could have prevented it, easily, if he had just come when he first heard the news. But he didn’t. He had deliberately delayed for two more days, as though he actually wanted to find his friend dead.

Ironically, this is precisely what his heavenly Father would do to him. Though he could have sent him more than twelve legions of angels (Mtt 26:53) to save him he won’t. He will delay to save him – and Jesus will die alone.

Did Lazarus, perhaps, cry out in his lonely agony, ‘My friend, my Lord, Jesus, why have you abandoned me?’

At any rate, Lazarus is dead; he has been in the tomb for four days. The Jews believed that the human soul leaves the body after three days and then decomposition begins to set in.

Mary Magdalene may have wanted the body of Jesus early on that first Easter morning but Martha protests when Jesus wants the stone rolled away from her brother’s tomb. Despite her awe inspiring affirmation of faith in Jesus a few moments earlier, her practical, human, dare I say, feminine side, momentarily reasserts itself and she blurts out: Lord, by now he will smell…

Death is a big deal for us, in fact, it's the biggest deal in our life. It is the biggest hurdle, the biggest issue we have to face. Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross the great clinician of death and dying maintains that very few people, even among Christian believers, accept death without great fear.

As he stands before the cave in which his friend Lazarus is lying, he, Life itself, is standing before the ugly reality of the very foe he has come to destroy – death.

Jesus is weeping but why?

When he went to raise Jairus’ dead daughter he had said to the those who were weeping: Why all this commotion and crying? (Mk 5:39). And standing beside the bier on which lay the dead son of the widow of Nain his eyes were dry, even though we are told he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry' he had told the weeping mother (Lk 7:13).

The anguished recrimination of Mary: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, must have pierced his heart. John tells us it was at the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her that the Lord’s emotions began to overwhelm him.

Could it be that in the eyes of this woman who loved him so deeply Jesus, for an instant, saw the bitter torment and distress of his own mother, and through her, the unbearable sorrow of every human being as their loved one is torn from their arms by death?

The stone is rolled away; Jesus lifts his eyes in prayer to his heavenly Father: Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. At the loud cry of Jesus the stench of death becomes the sweet fragrance of eternal life.

As he uttered those words: Lazarus, here! Come out! did Jesus hear, in his own heart, the voice of the Father as he, only a few days from now, would cry out in a loud voice: Jesus, my Son, my Beloved, here! Come out?

We, too, long to hear those words of the Father calling our name. This is the great Christian hope. At those words we will step out of the darkness of death into the light of eternal joy and peace.

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