Not a day goes by without our being confronted with the reality of death. We receive phone calls informing us of the death of friends, relatives and colleagues. We reach out to neighbours who have lost a loved one through illness, suicide or accident. Our T.V news networks show us graphic pictures of terrorist atrocities that claim scores of lives. In the face of all that, this story assures us that God’s love, reflected in so many ways by prophets, saints and ordinary, decent human beings, is stronger than death. The clear message is that God favours not death but resurrection.
Coming as it does on the Sunday before Holy Week, the gospel story of the raising of Lazarus from the grave is effectively a preview of the resurrection of Jesus. I often wondered, did Jesus know of events in advance? Was it all kind of “mapped-out?” I don’t think so. He felt deeply the pain of people and he took part fully – he was not like an actor passively going through the motions.
Did Jesus know as he stood (4 days late) before the tomb of Lazarus – “that will be me not long from now? A stone, even a few guards and precious few to mourn.” Did he know how things would turn out?
I always like the child’s statement in class who said that this is a story of Jesus bringing us back to life no matter how “stinky” we become. I agree. It would be nice if we realised that there is life before death as well as after. I do not believe that we have to wait until our physical death to experience resurrection on some level. If you like, our entire life is a series of deaths and resurrections.
What Jesus is asking us to do in this story is to look at living and dying in a completely new way. We have to look at it not just in reference to the last day, but in relation to the present, to the deaths we experience in our daily lives, when we lose people close to us, when our close relationships fall apart, when family members just don’t come home, when others laugh at us, when we fail to live up to our own values and expectations, when our human frailty gets the better of us.
Belief in Jesus and his message strengthens us to see all those kinds of “deaths” in a new way. That kind of trust and belief in Jesus helps us to see that resurrection is already here. So, instead of complaining, instead of lapsing into grief, depression and despair, I am encouraged by Jesus to trust the power of God’s love at work in me and see God’s love and unfailing source of renewal and life. The words that Jesus addresses to Lazarus: “Unbind him, let him go free” are meant to resound beyond today’s reading into my life. Jesus invites me out of the graves in which I can so easily bury myself; out of the graves of anger, self-pity, bitterness, desire to get even, or anything else that binds me from experiencing the richness of God’s life and love.
As a consequence to that, as a disciple of Jesus, I am urged to free other people from their graves of embarrassment, shame, fear, addiction, or whatever is keeping them bound up without freedom, life or hope.