I invite you, while considering the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, to reflect on this image. And meditate on how Christ (1) is inviting each of us to healing; (2) can raise us each from our little deaths; and (3) wants to enlist us in bringing others to His healing love.
Read the full Gospel here: JN 11:3-7, 20-27, 33B-45
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
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.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”
It helps to know the meaning of some of these words. Lazarus means “God hath helped” or “God Helps”. To this extent, we can all be Lazarus. How do we each experience God’s help in our lives? When do we acknowledge that we need God’s help?
Bethany means: “the house of the afflicted.” To what extent are we each living in Bethany? When are we afflicted? Or do we inflict suffering on others, turning our homes into houses of afflicted?
In this picture, Jesus is calling Lazarus out of the tomb. “Lazarus, come out!”
Two other times, the Gospels depict Jesus raising someone from death. He raised the daughter of Jairus. In Mark, we read: “He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (The word used, “arise” is the verb generally used to express resurrection from death).
Jesus also raised from the dead a widow’s only son who was already in the coffin. From Luke: “He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
Each time, he calls them out. Jesus, who is Word Made Flesh, uses His words to heal us and conquer death.
Now look at this picture. Imagine Jesus calling on Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Now imagine that Jesus is calling each of us out of our tombs. Out of anything that separates us from Him.
Perhaps it’s a sinful attitude. Maybe we are placing our hope in something that is temporary, like money, or TV shows. Or maybe we’ve been hurt before and are holding on to the pain, not letting it go. It’s easy to find ourselves with attitudes or desires that slowly kill us and entomb our souls.
Resentment and bitterness are two of mine. For example, if someone slights me or insults me, it’s easy for me to become fixated on that. And it’s hard for me not to dwell on the slight or insult. I might play the scenario over and over in my mind. I find myself day-dreaming about confronting that person, coming up with quick zingers to get back at that person, thinking, “That would show them!”
This resentment and these fantasies are dangerous, though, because I can find myself entombed in resentment. But looking at this picture, I see that Jesus is calling me to come out of that tomb.
Sometimes we find ourselves in tombs that seem too deep to come out of. Maybe it’s resentment against someone who did atrocious things. Or maybe it’s an addiction. But remember that Lazarus was dead and in the grave for four days! Martha pointed this out when Jesus ordered the stone rolled away: “Lord, by now there will be a stench!”
But not even four days of death and deterioration were enough to put Lazarus beyond the healing power of Christ.
This applies to you and to me. No matter how much distance we put between ourselves and Jesus’ healing power, he is only a prayer away.
And Jesus isn’t a disinterested person who heals from a distance. He comes to us, lowers Himself to our level. Look at how Jesus reacted to news of Lazarus’ death. Twice the Gospel reading tells that Jesus “became perturbed.” He was “deeply troubled.” He even wept.
He feels our pain, our suffering, our anguish.
I noticed that Jesus gives three commands in this Gospel, and I think these are very relevant to us. First, He commands those around Him: “Take away the stone.” Is He talking to me? Have I ever placed a stone over someone else’s tomb, placing an obstacle between that person and Christ? Maybe, in my resentment, I hurt someone with a snappy comeback. Or maybe, in trying to correct someone else’s faults, I drove them from the Church. If so, how can I “take away the stone?”
Jesus’ directs his second command at Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!” Again, is Jesus calling me out of my tomb, asking me to accept His healing?
Finally, Jesus commands the bystanders: “Untie him and let him go.” Is Jesus asking me to help others with their bondage, to help untie them and let them go? I think this is the call of the New Evangelization. Maybe this is how we can “go forth and proclaim the Gospel.”
I recently read a story tells of Christ’s healing power, and how He calls us to participate in this healing ministry. It’s an article by a Holy Cross priest who served at the Downtown Chapel in Portland, Oregon, which provides hospitality, healing, and hope to the most marginalized:
Letting the pigeon loose in the church was the last straw. The week before, Pam had snuck in a cat wrapped in a blanket and the week before that a scruffy mutt of a dog that hobbled on three legs. But when a rather frightened gray pigeon flapped its wings and ascended to the top of the purple banner hanging in the sanctuary during the opening song at Mass, perilously close to the presider’s chair I might add, we knew something had to be done. Pam, the Doctor Doolittle of the Downtown Chapel, had to be stopped. Father Berg, the pastor, and I came up with a plan while we guided the panicky pigeon out the chapel door with the help of a ladder and a big broom. While we gathered the feathers the bird had left behind and Pam sat in the front pew quietly talking to herself about how the dove is a sign of the Holy Spirit, the priest and I conversed loud enough for Pam to hear.
“Pam, are you going to bring animals in the church again?” the pastor finally asked her.
“Praise Jesus Christ, never again!” Pam reassured us. With that promise tucked neatly away, Pam departed with a smile on her sweet face. Later that afternoon I saw her by the bus stop on the corner, bending the ear of some man in a blue suit holding tightly to his brief case, telling him about how much Jesus loved him and how Jesus freed him from sin and death.
Everyone loved Pam. She heard voices and saw spirits and talked to trees and said things that often made no sense whatsoever. Underneath rags of cotton and polyester and castaway wool, however, was pure and unfiltered generosity. We were all drawn to her charismatic outbursts at Mass and her bus stop evangelizing.
The details may never be known, but several weeks after the pigeon episode, Pam was brutally beaten up in a small patch of woods a mile or so out of Portland. She returned to us after mending in the hospital, appearing one Sunday morning bound in bandages, her face covered in a shroud of sadness. Something had changed and it was terrible. From then on, Pam sat in the back of the church as quiet as a church mouse. She ran from dogs and hid in abandoned storefront porches, hunched over, her slight frame packed away by sweaters and jackets and scarves and fat gloves. Before the beating, Pam would try to receive communion at all the Masses on Sunday, even after we told her once a day was sufficient. After she came back to us, Pam stayed in the back, eyes closed, lips sealed tight, the line of communicants passing by her each time.
Parishioners tried to reach her. One man named Peter used to sit next to her and put his big arms around her and try to nudge her to the altar, but nothing worked. Folks kept quiet vigil with her, telling her every now and then how beautiful she was, telling her how much Jesus loved her. I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, I might grab myself a pigeon and let it loose in the chapel, thinking that would bring Pam back from the grave. Nothing seemed to reach her.
It was a Wednesday in Lent, several months later, and as was the custom at the Downtown Chapel we celebrated the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick after Mass. We were gathered in a circle, holding hands, praying for healing, when a spry old man named Charlie stopped everything. He made his way back to Pam.
A heated conversation ensued. Pam wasn’t budging. Charlie stopped pleading with her and held her, his small arms couldn’t even reach all the way around the living, breathing ball of fabric shaking in the shadow of the chapel. He was speaking in her ear, God only knows what. Three, four minutes passed; our broken circle waited. Finally, Charlie and Pam made their way up to the altar, one holding the other with such tenderness that it made me pause and enjoy the pure loveliness of human beings.
First Pam took off her gloves, then her sunglasses, and then her knitted cap. After that she removed her yellow parka, then her windbreaker. Then she shed one sweater, then another, then a third. Hands reached over to help her climb out of the clothes she had been buried in. After the sweaters, she peeled off three shirts. And there she stood before us: a startled woman in a very pretty white cotton dress. She came forward and stood in the circle, her hands outstretched as if they had been freed from shackles and chains. Pam stood in the circle of life, bound by tears of sweet victory. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place that early evening, when a humbled priest dipped his fingers in sacred oil and bathed a woman’s forehead and blessed her delicate hands while she stood weeping in her white cotton dress. The simple folks of the Downtown Chapel touched Pam and caressed her back to life.
Maybe, in the face of such pain, the best we can do is what Jesus did: We go and face the tomb and weep. In all the Gospel accounts, this is the only time we hear of Jesus crying. With eyes filled with tears, he stared down death, and it was death that blinked. Lazarus emerged from the tomb. “Untie him, and let him go free,” Jesus said as he wiped the tears from his eyes. For on that day, death would not have the last word. No, the last word that day must have been the word that Charlie heard when we gathered in the circle, except the pronoun was different: “Untie her, and let her go free.” And that day, Pam did go free. She was scarred and scatter-brained, clinging lightly to sanity. But she was alive.
Jesus calls us to roll away the stones that cover our tombs. He calls us to leave the tombs that threaten to keep us in the dark and away from His light. And He calls us to help others, to loosen their bondages.