Our Gospel reading for this Sunday is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). And as I was reflecting on this reading, it just seemed to me how appropriate it was for our times. For me, the emotions expressed at different times in the story reflect, I think, the emotions many of us are feeling now.
For instance, there is the grief that Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, feel when their brother has died. In the Gospel, Jesus does not immediately respond to the sisters’ message that Lazarus is ill. Jesus knows what He’s going to do, and waits until after Lazarus has died before He goes to see Mary and Martha. Before He gets to the family home, Martha meets Him, and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha speaks with faith, but I can also hear the grief and maybe even frustration in her voice.
Later, Martha sends word to Mary that Jesus has arrived, and Mary goes out to meet Jesus. And she says to Jesus exactly what Martha said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Again, I can hear the grief and frustration in her words. We know that there are thousands of people who are grieving because of covid-19. And it would be understandable if many of them asked, “God, where are you? Where were you? If you really cared, my loved one would not have died.” There is a place for lament. And I believe it is okay to lament to God. God is like a parent who comforts a grieving child who doesn’t understand his or her loss.
In Jesus’ response to Martha and Mary, we see His humanity. I see Jesus greatly affected by the sisters’ grief. And when He gets to Lazarus’ tomb, He weeps. Why would He weep if He knew what He was going to do? I think it has to do with being caught up in the grief of people He loves. I also wonder whether He wondered whether He should have gone right away after all. Anyway, Jesus seems to collect Himself, and orders that the tomb be opened, and after He prays to the Father, He cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” As we try our best to hunker down and self-quarantine and keep social distancing, aren’t we yearning for someone, Dr. Fauci, or the CDC, or the World Health Organization, anybody, to say to us, “Come out!”? It hasn’t happened yet, and it would not be wise to rush it, but it will happen, and we need to keep trusting in the love of God in Jesus Christ. As we have heard it said by so many, “We’re in this together.” But we’re not only in this together with each other. God is with us.
When Lazarus comes out of the tomb, Jesus says, “Untie him and let him go.” May we let the love of Jesus in, and let Him untie the bonds that hold us down. Whatever tomb or pit in which we may find ourselves, may we take His hand and be lifted up! May we let Him bind us together in compassion and justice and peace. And when the crisis passes, may we not pick up the old bonds again or go back into the tomb! Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.