March 9, 2008
LENT V (A)
I am the resurrection and the life. – John 11: 25
In the Broadway musical, “A Little Night Music,” the grandmother proposes a toast: “To life,” she says. Everyone at the dinner party enthusiastically joins in her toast to life. Then she spoils the party. She proposes a second toast, saying, “And to the only other reality, death!” The others cannot join her in this toast. They are embarrassed. A pall of gloom falls over the party & you feel it for the rest of the evening. The guests are unable to face that “other reality.”
The grandmother is right. Unless we can honestly face death, we cannot understand our Lord’s insistence on the necessity of His own death as well as our own. Even the apostles seemed clueless. If Jesus loved Lazarus, why did he delay going to his aid? Because the time had come for Jesus to make it perfectly clear that He was more than a healer & more than someone who simply has the ear of God. He must demonstrate that He is indeed the resurrection & the life. Delaying the death of Lazarus would not accomplish that.
In today’s Gospel, we also have what is perhaps the most famous line in scripture: “Jesus wept.” This does more than just show us our Lord’s humanity. Together with the delay, He is making a point that all the saints have learned the hard way: the only way beyond grief & death is through them, not avoiding them. God’s love in His Son responds to all that threatens & terrorizes human beings. The glory of God will be manifested in a loving care stronger than the ravages of both sorrow & death.
Lazarus embodies what death means to most of us – it imprisons reality, blocking the hands, nose, mouth, & ears of people. It even binds our feet so that we cannot walk. Jesus’ command is to reverse this condition. God’s glory is to free people & let them go, even as He freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt , even as He frees us from sin so that we might enjoy what living is all about.
Where do grief & the fear of death come from? The answer may surprise us: love. It is the fear of losing the love of a beloved & the love of those who love us when we die that makes cowards of us all. The deeper the love, the deeper is our grief. This is a truth we seldom think about when we give our heart away. The paradox is that the love that causes our grief & fear is, at root, the love that consoles us.
Consolation ultimately comes from realizing that love is stronger than death, which is not an easy realization to embrace. As Martha knew, the stench of death is strong. Yet both she & Mary would come to discover that their relationship with Jesus would give them the love of God that sustains people & raises them. Its gentleness provided them with an enduring strength.
As St Paul said, “do not grieve as others do who have no hope” (I Thess. 4: 13). In other words, we Christians grieve like anyone else except that we have hope. It is the weeping Jesus who cries out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!” Still, the resuscitation of Lazarus is only “earnest money,” so to speak. The account will only be paid in full with His own death & resurrection. AMEN!