On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, we her in today’s Gospel St. John’s account of the raising of Lazarus.
Jesus’ friend, Lazarus is dying and so his sister’s send for Jesus. When Jesus hears the news of Lazarus’ illness, his response is strange. “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” And Jesus delays two more days before going to Lazarus.
By the time Jesus announces to his followers that they will go back to Judea, Lazarus is already dead. In fact, by the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha hears Jesus has arrived, she runs out spitting nails. “Where were you?…If you had been here my brother would be alive?….You should have been here…You should have done something.”
Jesus doesn’t defend himself. He says simply, “Your brother will rise.” Martha, immediately and impatiently says, “Yes, on the last day, he will rise.”
And Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life; whosoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Do you believe that? Yes, she says. And Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, presaging not only Jesus’ resurrection, but our Resurrection.
I think it is crucial when we reflect on the Resurrection that we remember that what is central is not merely the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but also what His resurrection means about our own death and resurrection.
At a very basic level, God had no reason to incarnate, die and rise for God’s own sake. God was already eternal, already not subject to death, already alive forever. It proves nothing new about God’s nature for God to die and rise. So if Christ’s Resurrection is not about our Resurrection, there was no reason for Christ to die and rise (or indeed to be incarnated in the first place). In one sense, the whole point of God becoming human was to make resurrection a reality for us…to carry us along so to speak, such that the resurrection of Christ inherently implies our resurrection. Thus Paul says “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised…if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised.
I find it telling that this is the first time Christ talks in a really direct way about resurrection (i.e., I’m not including His mystifying statements to His disciples like “the temple will be destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days – statements about which no one had a clue what he was saying). The first time he talks about resurrection it is not about His own resurrection, but about the resurrection of Lazarus. When Jesus asks Martha, Do you believe I am the resurrection and the life, He is not asking her whether she believes He (Jesus) will rise. He is asking her whether she believes her brother can be raised through Him. The question is do you believe you will rise.
And that is the fundamental question of our faith. Not do you believe the historical figure of Jesus rose from the dead, but do you believe that, through Jesus death and resurrection, even if you die, you will live….that you will never really die?
This is a question we need to be able to answer. Dom Helder Camara writes, “So, in those most critical, most agonizing of moments, we Christians have no right to forget that we are not born to die; we are born to live. We must hold on to hope, to inner peace, since we have the deep certainty of having been born for Easter, the everlasting Easter Day.”
In the words of Psalm 30, “Weeping may linger in the night but joy comes with the morning.”