|The raising of Lazarus|
From the Church of Sts. Martha, Mary, & Lazarus in Bethany
03 April 2017
New Life in God's Time
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sometimes we have heard these stories in the Gospel so often, that we miss the parts that would have shocked the first listeners, or would shock anyone who is unfamiliar with the story. The part that should have made us at least scratch our heads in today’s Gospel was, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” If you really love someone, why wouldn’t you go immediately to see them, hopefully getting to them before they die?!? It’s not like they had stellar hospitals at the time of Jesus who could keep someone alive for a few more days in order for friends or family to visit.
Two things are clear from Scripture: the Lord desires life for His people; and sometimes the Lord delays (from our point of view) in giving that new life to His people.
Our first reading, second reading, and Gospel all make clear that God desires life for His people. Ezekiel prophesies that God will open the graves of His people and have them rise. He will put His spirit in them so that they may have life, and settle them in their land. This will be the proof that God is the Lord. And St. Paul reminds us that, while the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive. If we have the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the one who raised Jesus from death to new life, then God will also give our mortal bodies new life, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And our Gospel is, we can say, the fulfillment of Ezekiel, as Jesus proves He is God by raising Lazarus from the dead. God, in the Person of Jesus, opens the grave of Lazarus, one of the People of God, and has him rise.
But those same readings, if we delve more deeply in them, also give us a less exciting piece of news: God sometimes waits to give new life to His people. The prophet Ezekiel is writing to a people totally devoid of hope. Because of their infidelity to the Lord, He has exiled them to Babylon, destroyed their temple, and they don’t know if they will ever return. They are the living dead, zombies, we might say, as they live but without the love of their life: their land and their temple. But Ezekiel reminds them that they will go back, and, after some years, they do, and they, metaphorically speaking, rise from their graves by returning to the land of Israel. But they had to wait.
As St. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit raising us to life, he speaks about it in the present, as the Spirit gives us a new way of life in Christ, putting to death the works of the flesh. But St. Paul also talks about how the Holy Spirit will raise up our mortal bodies. This only happens after death, and not simply when we die, but at the end of time. What the Church calls the general resurrection of the dead, will only come at the end of time (except for Mary, whose body was already raised up by a singular grace). We have to wait.
And in our Gospel, that odd paradox of Jesus hearing about one of His best friends being ill, one Jesus knows will be dead (though He uses the term “asleep,”), but Jesus waits two days. And when Jesus arrives, Lazarus has already been dead four days. As it turns out, even if Jesus would have left immediately, Lazarus would still have died two days before Jesus arrived. But Jesus waits, though not without cause. In fact, Jesus waits in order to prove beyond a doubt that He is God, and to work His greatest miracle during His earthly ministry.
Those two points are certainly true for us. Jesus desires new life for us. I am convinced that God has good things planned for St. Pius X, and I am happy to be a part of them, and to hopefully shepherd you as we find new life in Flint. But, at least in some ways (and in those ways it goes without saying), we’re not there yet. In some ways, we’re still in our graves, still in the tomb. That’s a tough place to be. But we cannot give ourselves life. New life can only come from Christ, and on Christ’s terms and schedule.
Think about the Israelites. They were so excited to leave Egypt! No more slavery, no more Pharaoh! But as soon as the first difficulty comes, they want to go back to Egypt. At the Red Sea, as the Egyptians get closer and closer, they cry that they want to go back, until Moses splits the Red Sea and they pass to safety. In the desert, the people start to complain that they don’t have meat or bread; they lack trust that God will provide; they don’t like waiting for new life in the Promised Land. So they tell Moses it was better in Egypt, and that they’d rather go back. They prefer the grave to new life, because they’re not convinced the new life is on the way.
God desires new life for us. Of that I am sure. But we’re not there yet. We’re still in the desert, on our way to the Promised Land, on our way to new life. The Lord invites us to have faith in Him, as Martha did, that we will rise. To quote Jesus, “‘Do you believe this?’”