RAISING OF LAZARUS FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT—April 6, 2014
A young American serviceman had just returned home from Vietnam. Some of his friends asked him: “How did the war experience affect your life? He said: “The thought that the end of my life is a hole six feet deep and six feet long casts a dark shadow on everything I do now”.
That young soldier had encountered the reality of death. His life would never be the same again. He faced the reality of that hole six feet deep. If we believe that hole is the end then there is a dark shadow over everything we do. Life suddenly has no meaning.
This is why the gospel brings us such incredible good news. In the gospels we discover that God has acted through the life of Jesus to show us the meaning of human existence.
Recently a small group of family and friends were gathered around the baptismal font for the baptism of a newborn infant. Before the baptism I said to them: we are here to share some incredible good news with this baby. We are saying to this child: “We have some good news and we want to share it with you. That’s why we are inviting you to join us in baptism.”
Then I asked a question. I said what is the good news that we have to share with this child? The little group of people were embarrassed. They didn’t seem to know what the good news was. All the people gathered around that font were excited and joyful. But they didn’t know why.
Do you know what the good news is that we share with every newborn infant who is baptized? Do you know what the good news is that we share with every adult who is baptized at Easter time?
It’s right here in the gospel. Jesus revealed the good news to Martha when he said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
He is saying to Martha: “The hole six feet deep and six feet long cannot hold me. The tomb that encloses the body of your brother Lazarus cannot hold me. Martha the tomb does not cast a shadow of despair over me because I am the resurrection and the life.”
The eternal life of Jesus shows us the meaning of human existence. “He who lives and believes in me will never die”. Through Jesus there is life after death. Life with God in heaven is the ultimate meaning of life on earth. Without the hope of resurrection life would end in a hole six feet deep and six feet long and cast a shadow over everything that we do.
By raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus demonstrates that physical death is not the end of our lives, but a “sleep” from which we awaken through God’s power.
Why do you think that Jesus waited two days before going up to Bethany to see Lazarus? He knew Lazarus was sick but he deliberately waited until Lazarus died and was buried. Then he went up to Bethany so that his disciples might believe and that we might believe that Jesus came to conquer death.
When they rolled away the stone; when he called Lazarus out of the tomb; that’s when death lost its ultimate power over us. God had promised through the prophet Isaiah (25:8) that the messiah would have victory over death. Jesus victory over death trumped the power of every human being who has ever lived.
When Lazarus walked out of the tomb after four days there was no question that Jesus was who he said he was—the Son of God. No one else could bring a man back to life after he had been dead four days. The most renowned scientist and medical genius cannot bring a man back to life after he has been dead four days.
But as incredible as this physical miracle was, Jesus had the power to do something even more amazing! St. Paul said he could give spiritual life to everyone who was dead in their sins. (Romans 5:10).
Just as no human power can bring life into a dead body, there is no power on earth that can bring life into a soul dead in sin. Jesus the Son of God is the only power on earth who can forgive our sins. Jesus our savior is our last hope to heal the wounds of sin and evil.
When Lazarus walked out of the tomb with a shroud around his body and clothes covering his head Jesus commanded that he be freed from the bondage of death.
When you walk out of the confessional, after confessing your sins, Jesus commands that you be freed from the bondage of sin. One of the saddest things in our church are the many souls who are walking around in the bondage of sin. When you turn your back on confession you are rejecting the only person who can remove your sin and set you free.
The raising of Lazarus is grounded in the divine power of resurrection. When Jesus meets Martha who was on her way to greet him she says, “Lord if you had only been here my brother would not have died”.
Now here is where Jesus begins the lesson on his divinity. Jesus says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then he looks directly into her eyes and says: Martha, “do you believe this?”
Through her tears Martha makes an act of faith: “Yes lord I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the son of the living God, the one who is coming into the world”. The people standing around the tomb never forgot that he was the Son of God.
That’s the lesson that Jesus wanted to teach. It was a great consolation to Jesus that Martha understood who he was. And before the day was over many others would come to make that act of faith in his divinity. Jesus had already told his disciples that this event was all about the glory of God—so that God could be known.
As we read the passion next Sunday we are reminded that for our sake he would take on this same death in order to save us from death. He saw the tears of others and cried his own tears of mourning. He foresaw that he would be rejected and ignored by the very people for whom he would shed his life’s blood. To be rejected—that would make anyone weep.
Yes lord I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the son of the living God.