Apr 2, 2017

Fifth Week of Lent

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  

If seems like the ultimate guilt trip.  Was Christ responsible for the death of Lazarus?  We know, intellectually the answer. But when someone is stricken with grief, shock, disappointment and even anger, we have often heard people say things like, “If there is a God, why does he allow suffering.  Why did God allow such and such a person to die?  Where is God when you need him most?” The greater one’s love for someone, the greater is one’s suffering when they suffer.

This indeed reveals the vulnerability of the heart. Here we are all vulnerable – when we are confronted with suffering and pain.  So back to that question, “where is God when you need him?”  Why is He sometimes silent when there are tragedies?

Consider reflecting on just a few lines from the Gospel we have just heard. Hearing that his friend Lazarus had died, we read –

He became perturbed and deeply troubled and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”  And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”

Where was God? God was standing at the grave weeping.  God suffered the pain of grief.   

If you think of God as sitting on a cloud in heaven, far removed from our world – think again.  Our God weeps. This is not only one little incident for His close and dear friend Lazarus.  He weeps also you and for me, when we die.  And I’m not talking about a funeral.

And we can die many times, even before our time. When we fall into despair, we die. When we are suffer sickness, fall into anger, confusion, addictive behaviors, selfishness – something in us dies. When we sin and turn our back on God and others and think only of ourselves, become arrogant, entrenched – life within us is cut short. We can die a thousand deaths before our time. And with every death God’s heart is crushed with pain and sorrow for you and me.  That’s where God is, weeping over a casket I have made and locked myself within.

God is intimately, in the midst of our often-messy lives.  God is with us, not necessarily trying to answer all our intellectual questions, important as they are. First and foremost, Christ joins His heart to yours, to mine. Christ experiences the depth of our soul, our longings, our anguish, our hopes, joys and fears. He is often with us without words as intimate friends do not often need to speak. It is often enough to be assured that one is there to share the burden of the other.

Here’s a thought I think is worth reflecting upon.  Lazarus was dead for four days. Christ wants to roll back the stone from the tomb. Martha says no, because logically there will be a stench. Christ orders it to be moved. Here’s the question? When it was rolled back, was there the smell of death that was expected? No. The love of Christ for his friends will ensure that even though we die a thousand deaths, the lingering stench of death will not claim us if we remain in his friendship.

Here’s the final picture.  After Christ’s prayer Lazarus is called forth from the tomb, he is still shrouded with his feet and hand still bound. St. Augustine provides us with a powerful image here of the journey to full repentance and conversion. Christ calls us, caught in the death of sin, to come forth from the hiding place of darkness and show ourselves. And as we step out into his light we do so aware of what still binds our hands and feet. Christ calls out to the Church to untie the sinner so that freed from the entanglement of sin and despair, the sinner might live again a new life.

Is this not the Sacrament of Confession and the absolution of sins, whereby the repentant sinner who dares respond to the command of Christ is assured of a new beginning, a new awakening? Many came to believe in Jesus because he raised the dead Lazarus to life. Let us pray likewise, that we will never be obstacles to the salvation of others, but witnesses who, with our lives, point towards the kingdom of God, were freed from the corruption of sin and death, we shall reflect God’s glory with every creature through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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