5th Sunday of Lent ~ 26 March 2023 ~ Bible Readings for the Liturgy of the Word: I. Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Responsorial: Psalm 130; II: Romans 8: 8-11; Gospel: John 11: 1-45

Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead

We are in the last week of Lent. As the time of the Passion of our Lord Jesus approaches the Holy Spirit brings us deeper into the solemn Presence and hope that is our Lord. Today our Gospel shares the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This last pre-Passion recorded miracle of Jesus is profound and powerful for many reasons. As it occurs just days prior to Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem it, in many ways sets the stage for what will happen with Jesus. It is a message of Trials and Tombs about Lazarus and the hope of Jesus in our lives today.

The miracle of Lazarus’s raising from the dead is only shared in John’s Gospel. Some consider such an event not being mentioned in the other Gospels a problem. Why did not the other evangelists record such a profound experience? Why is there no further mention of Lazarus in the Book of Acts or early epistles? Who was and what happened to this man?

Remembering that the Gospel of John was written well after the three Synoptic Gospels is helpful. It is very likely that the resurrected Lazarus was alive and well and still a target of the Jews who wanted him and his story gone. The earlier writers could well have sought to protect their friend as best they could from this threat and thus kept his story to be shared later. But still, we may wonder, who was Lazarus?

The Gospel of John explains he was the brother of Martha and Mary whose relationships with Jesus are recorded in the Gospels. The hearts and home of Lazarus and his sisters were clearly well-known, and loved, by Jesus. Christ felt at home in their house and their hearts. When Lazarus is taken ill, his sisters quickly seek Jesus’s help, indicating this was a serious sickness. Jesus does hear their prayers. And Jesus delays responding. The angst and frustration of Martha and Mary are clear. But what of Lazarus? Tradition states he was around thirty years old when he dies, the first time. As he lay sick and his life ebbed away he too must have longed for the Presence and help of Jesus. Deep must have been his sorrow and disappointment as the shrouds of fear and uncertainty wrapped around his soul. Lazarus would not see Jesus before he dies.

Jesus Wept

The name Lazarus means: “whom God helps”. Yet Lazarus must have felt, deeply, that God had abandoned him. But the delay of Jesus was not denial. The help of Emmanuel, God with us, was not late but would surpass any of the hopes that seemingly had been dashed. Jesus came. He saw and felt the real grief and loss of Martha, Mary, and their friends. He saw and felt the heartbreaking disappointment of Lazarus as well. And Jesus wept. Some have said that Jesus wept because he was frustrated with the sorrow and doubts of the mourners. Perhaps. But such frustration would more likely be expressed in words of irritation or at least firm correction. This shortest sentence in all Scripture, I sense, expresses the immense compassion and love of God for us where we may be in life. God knew Martha, Mary, the others, and especially Lazarus did not know and understand why he delayed responding. And God knows neither do we understand when our prayers are met with delay, heartbreak, or sorrow. But God was, is, and always will be… helping. Tradition states that Lazarus would escape the murderous attempts of the Jews leaders and move to the Isle of Cyprus. It is said that Barnabas and Saul met with him there and ordained him bishop of Kition. It is said he lived and served Christ for another thirty years before finally dying once again but with experience and hopes that he carried across the threshold of eternity.

This miracle is a beautiful witness of the friendship of Jesus with Lazarus and his two sisters. It teaches us how Jesus values each of us, our hearts, and our homes. Like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus we will never be sorry for welcoming our Lord into our lives. The Presence of Jesus along with his companions and friends, the saints and angels, can only bring blessings and graces as together we follow Him whose way of the cross we are called to share. It is no coincidence that this very real friendship of God evidenced in this family will be discussed by Jesus at the soon-to-be shared Passover meal and institution of the Eucharist. Jesus speaks in his Upper Room discourse that he no longer calls his disciples servants, but friends. But this friendship with Jesus is not about this world. Nor is it realized in the times and ways we expect in our limited perceptions of God. Jesus knew full well he was not abandoning Lazarus and his sisters, his friends. He would come, and he would answer their prayers. But as their friend, Emmanuel, God with them. Yet, being God and man Jesus also knew, deeply, their fear, sorrow, grief, and loss. So, Jesus wept.

The story of Lazarus is an holy and powerful message of real hope in our world of trials and tombs. Like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha we face in this life trials that surpass our abilities and resources with which to contend. It is very real to send our prayers to Jesus seeking his urgent help and Presence before it is too late. Life can bring real sickness, death, violence, conflict, and more. And we must always seek the help of Jesus in our hearts and homes. But, like Lazarus and his sisters, there may well be times when it seems God is too late. It is, sadly a normal course of life to come to the tombs of life. The way of the cross to our tombs might mean the actual death of our mortal body. But the way of the cross might also bring us to the tombs of our plans, hopes, or dreams. And the death, the change, or loss of those special parts of our lives and families can be as deeply grievous. Regardless of the tombs of life, we might face we can be assured that Jesus will meet us there. The same compassion he shared with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus he will bring to us as we but trust him. With our Psalmist today well may we pray: ” I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in the Lord.”

It is the season of Lent. The way of the cross, the story of Lazarus is very much a part of this season. But this way of the cross, the reality of trials and tombs is what life is about, no matter the season. And even more so, the eternal friendship of Jesus, Savior, Lord…Friend is needed at every step of our journey.