Sunday, April 6, 2014

Waterfalls and Stinky Tombs

Me (in yellow shorts) making the leap!
Readings for Sunday, April 6/ 5th Sunday of Lent:
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

I’ve never been a very adventurous individual. I generally try to keep safe, not do crazy things and keep my bones and brain intact. But as a seminarian working at a boys wilderness camp, this reserved nature of mine was pushed and challenged almost daily to do things that were way outside my comfort zone. One such thing was jumping off of waterfalls or high cliffs into rivers or lakes below. I’m not a fan of heights to start with, but then I just knew that as soon as I jumped off a thirty foot ledge into the water I would hit an unseen rock or tree and they’d have to let my parents know that I wouldn’t be coming home…ever. But this didn’t stop the rest of the guys at the camp. As I sat and watched them guys jump fearlessly into the water below and come up just fine, my courage began to increase and eventually I was able to make the jump myself. The thing was that in order to do something a bit crazy by my logic, I had to have some help to make the leap of faith.

In the Scriptures God continually promises us all sorts of absurd things. He told us in our first reading: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. And yet it’s one of the many things God invites us to believe in, but He also gives us that help we often need in making the leap by showing us glimpses of what is to come. This is what the story of Lazarus is for us today.

When I was praying with the Gospel it struck me as odd the way Jesus responded to the news of Lazarus’ illness. John tells us that, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where He was.” He remained for two days in the place where He was!? That sure doesn’t sound like love. Love would seem instead to drop everything and run quickly to Lazarus’ aid, and yet that’s not the case. God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. The love for Lazarus and his sisters, as well as the others with them, is characterized not in Jesus’ resuscitation of Lazarus so much as the timing of the resuscitation. Jesus waits two days, probably travels on the third, and arrives on the fourth (Lazarus had been in the tomb four days we’re told) so that He could show the people present that even what seems to be impossible to bring back to life (there will be a stench, Lord!) He could raise up again. It was an opportunity and invitation to embrace faith in a new, deeper way.

Icon of Christ raising Lazarus
We see this in the words that Jesus Himself speaks. When the news first arrives He says, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.” It was for the glory of God because people would shortly glorify God because they would believe in the Son He had sent. Again to the Apostles He says, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” He basically said, “I’m glad Lazarus died, because now I can show you what I am really capable of!” And if that is not enough, He says it even more explicitly as He stands at the entrance to the tomb and lifts up His voice to the Father, saying, “because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” Jesus let Lazarus die in order to evoke faith from the individuals present, most especially Martha and Mary.

Each week we profess our faith and we profess that we believe in the Resurrection of the Body and we say that not just in reference to Jesus, but also to ourselves, that you and I will have bodies in the next life too and they will be even more glorious than the ones we have now! As difficult as that can be to understand, we profess faith in it. But the deeper question is where is the Lazarus experience in your life? Where in your life, in that of your spouse, your children, coworker or friend is the place where it seems like God has left someone for dead? Where is the place where you in your pain want to cry out with Martha and Mary, ‘Lord, if you had been here things wouldn’t be like this!’ and are frustrated because of the stench of the tomb, that it's too late to be fixed? That is the place Jesus wants to come to today, to that place of pain and suffering, grief and loss. He wants to come there because He wants to invite us to take a new leap of faith. Do we believe? Do we really believe the Lord wants it and can do it? Or are we waiting for another sign to show us that it’s safe to jump?

Lord Jesus, increase my faith!

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