Lazarus, Come Out!
Here we are, deep into our Lenten journey on this 5th Sunday of Lent. We see Holy Week and Easter on the horizon. We sense the nearness of the joy of our Easter celebration. Our popular culture and marketing see nothing but Easter bunnies, chocolates, flowers, Easter eggs, and new Easter outfits. Everything is happy and beautiful. We are urged to jump ahead in the story and disregard what our journey to Easter is really all about. But we know well what lies ahead in the story of our Lenten pilgrimage through Holy Week.
These are days that remind us of hard truths and hard realities. These are days that press us to look at what we sometimes prefer to avoid or deny. What about suffering? What about death? What about heartache and heartbreak? What about disappointment, sadness and broken dreams. What about weakness, my own and that of others? What about pain and loss? What about when nothing seems to make sense, when we try to wrap our heads and hearts around tragedies which are beyond our comprehension? What about the trials and tribulations of everyday life? These days of Lent and the journey toward Easter are days that help us frame, focus, and understand the pathway of our lives. In our Christian faith and our Catholic spirituality we call this the “paschal mystery.” This mystery is about the mystery of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection and about the same pattern of life, death, and resurrection we can trace so clearly in our own lives.
Ultimately, we have a choice in answering these questions. We can decide that there is no answer and that everything is capricious and random—that there is no real meaning to it all. Or we can look with eyes of faith to see and believe that there is a meaning and purpose for our lives with the joys and sorrows that accompany us. We can see, in the example of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, an illumination that shows the meaning and purpose of our own lives. This is what we believe and celebrate in these days of Lent. It has been said: “It was love that held Him on the cross, not the nails.” We see in the paschal mystery what love is and we see what love does. That’s the important part—what love does.
We listen to the first reading this Sunday and hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel who speaks on behalf of God saying: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back. . . I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” In the Gospel we hear Jesus calling to his friend Lazarus who had been dead in the grave for four days: “Lazarus, come out!” But was Jesus calling Lazarus to come out to the same life he had before he entered the tomb or was he being called to a new and different life? Surely it was to a new life—to a resurrected life.
So, to what are we being called when we hear Jesus shouting for us to “come out!”? In these readings we hear the voice of God reminding us that we are called to come out to new life. We are called to a life that is lived in the paschal mystery, namely, to live in the pattern of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We are being called to come out, to rise, to be set free, and to walk into new life. We are being called to come out and rise to a new life of love that keeps us here in our lives because of love. We are called to rise to forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and care for those in suffering. We are called to be with those who are alone. We are called to rise to love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is what new life, outside the tomb, looks like. And even when it is hard, painful, or confusing, we continue with faith that God will bring resurrection and will walk with us in good times and in bad.
There is a quote from President Teddy Roosevelt which expresses the way of this mystery. While he has never been acclaimed for his theological presentations on the journey of the paschal mystery, it is, nonetheless, this great mystery which lies at the heart of his writing when he says: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” In short, the paschal mystery calls us to dare greatly.
What we believe as followers of Jesus is that we are called out of the tomb to something great, rich, fulfilling, graceful, and life-giving. In the words of Pope Francis: “Each day in our world, beauty is born anew. It rises transformed through the storms of history.”