Lazarus – From Grief to Joy

This weekend’s Gospel, the story of Lazarus, is almost overwhelming in the number of truths that we can reflect upon while reading it.  There is a not so subtle reference to the Paschal mystery – the life, death and Resurrection of Christ.  We can see in this gospel that death is not final; our faith allows us to participate in Christ’s victory over death – the Resurrection.  We also witness a clear demonstration that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  And, of course, we are shown the pure and confident faith of Mary and Martha even when they are deep in grief and pain.

When we first read this passage, the story can be somewhat confusing.  Jesus has been told that his good friend, Lazarus is very ill.  We expect Jesus to go to him and his sisters immediately, but Jesus waits two days.  Instead of rushing to heal Lazarus, he waits and Lazarus dies.  Mary and Martha are grieving the death of their brother when Jesus arrives. Jesus knew that Lazarus had died before he arrived, but he was still filled with pain when he saw the sorrow and anguish of those he loved.   Jesus wept – he cried with and for those he loved.  By him sharing in their grief, we see the full humanity of Christ.  He is fully human and he wants to comfort his friends and ease their pain.

Mary and Martha, although grieving, are very direct in their speech and are confident in their belief in Jesus.  They both emphatically state that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been present.  Jesus responds with a statement that I think is one of the most comforting and beautiful passages to be found:

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Mary and Martha are confident in their belief in Jesus, even if they don’t understand what he is about to do.  Imagine their extreme surprise, joy and probably confusion when Jesus raises their brother from the dead!  Their faith in Jesus being Christ was strong before they even witnessed the miracle of resurrection.

By raising Lazarus from the dead, we see that Jesus is fully divine – only God has power over death.  With Lazarus’ resurrection, Christ shows all that he is the Son of God.  In this final and great miracle before his own death and Resurrection, Christ’s divinity is evident.

By our baptism, we too are welcomed into the death and Resurrection of Christ.  All of us, through the sacraments of initiation, are invited to have the confident faith of Mary and Martha.  We may not always understand why something has happened, we just need to believe that Jesus is the Christ; he loves us and is with us.

This pure and confident faith is something we may sometimes struggle to maintain.  However, we have a beautiful and living reminder of this type of faith when we look at our children who are preparing to receive Holy Communion, a sacrament of initiation, for the first time at the end of this month.  Over the last few months, these children have been preparing to join us at the Lord’s Table.  Their excitement, joy, and even their nervousness is a wonderful thing to behold.  They do not doubt Jesus’ presence; they are eager to receive him.  Their enthusiasm can remind us that we, too, should wholeheartedly and eagerly accept Jesus’ true presence and be open to this wonderful gift.  We are blessed to have this opportunity to celebrate with these young children the first time they say “Amen” to this invitation; the first time they say “Yes” to the presence of Jesus.

However, we want to encourage the children to not think of this so much as “First Communion” but rather as an invitation for life to join us at the Lord’s Table.  To remind them that this is an invitation extended to them every week for the rest of their lives.  We also need to remember that the invitation to receive Communion is an invitation for life for each of us; this is not a one-time thing.  Every week we also are invited to the Lord’s Table.

As we accept that invitation, let’s try to remember the joy and excitement of the children.  Let’s ask for God to give us the gift of a pure and confident faith as we go through these last weeks of Lent and begin to prepare for Jesus’ Resurrection.  As a witness to both the human and divine in Christ, let us take comfort and joy in his desire to be with us and the salvation he has given us in his death and Resurrection.

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