Today we have another long gospel reading, similar to what we had on the last two Sundays. In today’s passage from John’s gospel we heard how Jesus brought Lazarus back to life.
One could comment that Lazarus was a fortunate man indeed. Fortunate because he was a friend of Jesus, fortunate because Jesus came and fortunate because he had the power to bring him back to life.
If we approached the gospel in this way, we would have to say that many people are not as fortunate as Lazarus. These days we are aware of many people who die. They because of Corona. They die because of other causes and this has always been the case. Focusing our attention on the fortune of Lazarus could be alienating and rubbing salt into the wounds of those who are suffering loss.
When I look at narrative in more detail it seems to me that it is not primarily about the good fortune of Lazarus. There are other things at stake.
In his comments to his disciples and the sisters of Lazarus Jesus alludes to his glorification and the resurrection of the dead. It is as if he wants to prepare us for what is to come. Although Lazarus returns to this life and will die again, this miracle is a sign that points at God’s power to raise the dead to life, not just to this life, but to life everlasting. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ Jesus says to Martha. He shows a glimpse of a divine reality and the glory of God revealed in Jesus, his passion, death and resurrection.
But there is also a human dimension to this story. We find a household confronted with illness and loss. They call on Jesus who comes to them, despite the risks his journey to Judea poses. The sisters lament that their brother wouldn’t have died if Jesus had come earlier. Then Jesus weeps with them and expresses anger at the forces of death and darkness. He offers words of comfort and hope and restores life.
Some commentators see Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loves, as a representative of all whom Jesus loves. As such his family can be seen as an image of the Christian community.
And so, as Jesus was present in the lives of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, we may trust he is present in the life of our community. He is present when we are confronted with illness and death. He is present in the situation we find ourselves in at the present time.
Although this may not be the reality of physical death, we do nevertheless experience that life has come to a standstill. Many things have stopped. Something has died.
It is in that reality we may call on the Lord. Like Martha and Mary we may ask him why he didn’t come earlier and prevent this situation. Like them we may come to him and listen to his words and find comfort, hope and orientation.
I am aware that this is happening already. Despite the difficulties, we also see glimpses of light, glimpses of a world that can be quite different. People find creative ways to look after each other, take more time for one another, reach out to those in need. There is news about fish returning to canals and an improvement of the air quality. There is a fresh awareness of what really matters.
I believe that the Lord is present in this and will help us to come back to life, life that may be different, but it will be richer and better for all.