5th Sunday of Lent year A 2017:
Today we hear this powerful story of the raising of Lazarus. Today we hear about Jesus exercising his divine power. I think all of us recognize that death seems to be a power completely outside of human control. As much as we might try to fight death with medicine, health, diet, exercise, etc. Death is beyond our control. As much as we hate death, as much as we try to avoid it, or overcome it, we recognize that we are powerless against it. Human beings cannot conquer over death.
And then there is Jesus. Today we just heard him cry out: Lazarus come out. And the way the gospel puts it is so amazing it says: the dead man came out. There was no doubt that Lazarus had died, he had fallen as yet another victim of the power of death. And yet, at the voice of Jesus, the prophecy of Ezekiel is fulfilled: God opened the tomb and caused Lazarus to rise. And, of course, this story prefigures the resurrection of Jesus as well. Again, Jesus shows his divine power in his triumph over death.
I can’t stress enough the importance of this reality. Christianity proclaims an amazing truth: Jesus has power over death, Jesus can raise the dead, even Jesus who died, rose from the dead and lives now forever. If we don’t get this truth right, we won’t get anything right. If you go through the catechism you will see that we believe and teach a lot of stuff about God, faith, prayer, morality. But, at the heart of everything we believe is this one central message: Jesus died and rose again. He has power over death. So, whenever we encounter the scary power of death, we have a hero, we have a defender, we have someone we can rely on. Hopefully our faith in Christ will fill us with hope, even if we suffer, die, or go through the suffering and death of those we love.
Speaking of that, Friday was a sad day for our whole parish community. Friday we celebrated the funeral Mass for Jonathan Nusbaum. I think Jonathan and his family are pretty well known here at St. Jude. But, Jonathan had been battling cancer for a number of years, and he died on Tuesday morning. It was a sad day for many of us. We have been praying all these years that Jonathan would be healed. But, it didn’t work out that way. But, we have a hero, we have Jesus.
I think the words of Lazarus’ two sisters speak pretty well to the pain we feel in our hearts. Did you notice that both sisters say the exact same thing to Jesus: Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. Maybe many of us could say the same thing this week: Lord, if you would have intervened, Jonathan would not have died. I think this is an appropriate prayer really. On the one hand, it takes into account the pain that we are feeling at the loss of a friend. On the other hand, it also acknowledges that we believe that God is all powerful. It’s actually a bit of a faith statement. Both the sisters in the Gospel, and all of us, believe that Jesus Christ is God and all powerful. So, a prayer like this one can really be helpful when we are saddened by the loss of a loved one: Lord, if you had been here.
But, one other important thing to take away from this gospel story is not just the fact that Jesus does have power over death and that he can give life to Lazarus, Jonathan and all our deceased friends. The other thing to take away is that Jesus is close to us, he is never far away. My favorite line in this gospel is also the shortest: and Jesus wept. What a powerful statement! Jesus wept. He didn’t weep because he was powerless against death, he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He wept because he shared in the lives of Martha and Mary. Jesus is not distant and remote from them, he is united to them and he weeps with them when they are sad.
The same is true for us. This has been a tough week for so many. But, Jesus isn’t far. He is still united to us, he is still with us and he shares our lives with us. He is still weeping with those who are sad. And while the pain remains, it helps to know that Jesus shares that pain with us. We can always turn to Christ.
So, this gospel gives us three things to remember: 1, Jesus has the divine power to overcome death. This should fill us with amazing hope, especially when we think about our own mortality, or the loss of someone we love. 2, don’t be afraid to share your grief with Jesus, just like the two sisters did in the gospel: Lord, if you were here. 3, we are not alone in our pain. Jesus weeps with us, Jesus is close to us. Hopefully that thought can give us some strength in tough times as well.