“Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So, Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
Three weeks ago, I stood at the threshold of Lazarus’ burial place where Jesus said the words “Untie him and let him go.” I am overwhelmed with the power of Christ’s words which brought life back to His friend Lazarus in Bethany, a small village in Judaea.
This day was one of many incredibly graced moments that I experienced as I accompanied 30 other pilgrims, while being Chaplain for the Saint John’s Seminary-sponsored pilgrimage to the Holy Land during Spring Break. This was my first visit to the Holy Land and it was made especially poignant to be in the land of Our Lord during Lent. To be in the physical place where the Lord walked, lived, healed, grieved, loved, shared friendships, suffered, died, and resurrected was humbling and profound. In a word, my pilgrimage put more flesh on the God Who Became Flesh.
Our Gospel passage today squarely puts us in the midst of real friends—friends who are faced with the ultimate test of trust, surrender and vulnerability. Lazarus has died, Martha is angry, Jesus is perturbed—there are hurt feelings, grieving, disappointment and real tears. There is also expectant faith and grace. The sisters of Lazarus have great trust stating that if the Lord had been with them their brother would not have died. They are truly aware of who Jesus is and what He is capable of. Their faith in the power of Christ is reflective in the promises of old.
The prophet Ezekiel tells us “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” And then says, “I will put my spirit in you that you may live.”
St. Paul says to the Romans and to us “you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul follows this with “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Martha’s great glory is her simple and strong statement of faith in Jesus after her brother’s death. “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world’” (John 11:25-27).
The Gospel according to John assures us that life overcomes death, that Lazarus, who has died, will rise! We are strengthened by the words of Jesus, “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.” The promise of Eternal Life is one of God’s faithfulness and our response to the invitation to follow Him. Our journey is daily; where we choose Christ and let go of that which binds us—that which blocks the power of Christ’s presence in our lives.
These three siblings witness to the power of Christ’s love and mercy. In its 2021 decree on combining veneration of Mary and Lazarus with Martha, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said, “In the household of Bethany, the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them. Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the one who humiliated death.”
The Lord desires each of us to be set free—from alienation with God to friendship. Uniquely and tenderly, these three siblings shared friendship with Jesus Christ as He walked on this earth.
The question for each of us is: What binds us? What is it that we need to be freed from in order to deepen our friendship with the Lord?
Let us take on the virtues of these holy siblings. May these waning days of Lent inspire us to be free so that we may serve the Lord generously like Martha, listen attentively to the Lord like Mary, be obedient and be witnesses to new life which Jesus offers us like Lazarus.