TEARS OF THE RESURRECTION
HANDMAID LENTEN '17 REFLECTIONS
BY CHARLENE OGU
We’ve all heard this Gospel reading many times and by now, you probably remember it being pointed out the moment where Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus. There’s a reason why it pulls at our heartstrings every time. But why does it somewhat take us aback that Jesus cried, felt emotions with the people he cared about? What does this surprise reveal to us about how we relate to God amidst suffering? In this reflection, I hope we can move that much closer into a deeper relationship with Christ as we begin to prepare for Easter. So here’s the Gospel.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill." When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now 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. Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then told them, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." So the disciples said to him, "Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved." But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, "Lazarus has died.
And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with him." When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus told her, "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. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him.
So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, 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." Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him. John 11:1-45
Now we’ve all had moments where we pray to God about something we’re finding really difficult, something messy that we can’t make sense of, something that just straight up hurts. Illnesses, family dramas, the actions of others, death. The recent terrorist attack in London is a moment of pain we can all recall. All of which are implications brought about through the disobedience in original sin.
Master, the one you love is ill.
We tell God knowing that he loves us and he cares and somewhere within it all we’re hoping it will work out, that he will fix it and everything will be ok.
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.
Lent is soon coming to an end, and if we’re really going to draw close to Jesus we need to rest in what can be a painful reality. It’s just you and him in the desert. So let’s get real for a moment. If we’re going to move anywhere we need to know how to deal with all these questions we have in moments of real suffering.
Lazarus was in the tomb for four days by the time Jesus arrived, he was beginning to smell. He was dead dead! It wasn’t a question, by now it was certain. The one that everyone loved was really gone.
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
It plays into a silent fear we all have about who God is. He is a God that is not really present in times of suffering, a God who is capable but unable to protect us from pain, a God who spectates but does not intercede. And for the most part this is the safer option. It’s somehow comforting to blame or to hold the biggest person in the room accountable in a hope that our answer might be more acceptable.
At this point it’s imperative to let go of the God of our imagination, a God who waves a wand and makes everything ok. It’s equally as important that we don’t create another God in those painful moments, a God who judges and punishes, a God who is not really for you. It is only in trials that we can let go of one notion of God and discover the true living God.
"Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."
It is in these moments that we are invited to lift our head, open our eyes, look up and see the face of Christ. Through our suffering we begin to behold a more mature image of God, mysterious yet unshakable.
"This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Jesus was not unaware of what was happening, he knew all that would happen. The providence of God is orchestrated on a timeline that will work for the good of all who love Him and for His glorification. A timeline unknown to us, which remains elusive and silent; and gives light to our fidelity to Him. Here we see a God who doesn’t promise us a life without heartbreak in this broken world but promises us eternal life. He tells us that he gets it. He became a man to delve into the human experience, to walk with us on our journey.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world John 16:33
He wept, yes! Because in his humanity he experiences the totality of what it means to be human. In his desire to be one with us he didn’t want to leave us alone in our experience so he felt it with us. His compassion meant that even though he knew what he was going to do he saw the grief of the ones he loved and couldn't help but feel it too.
On the cross he took on the pain of all of humanity and in a loud cry to God the Father said
My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46
In faith he commended his spirit, abandoning himself to the will of God and he calls us to imitate him. It’s important to have an eternal perspective to remember that in this life, everything is preparing us for eternity with him.
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal 2 Corinthians 4:17
God created us for His glory and for our eternal happiness and His Glory is man fully alive (St Irenaeus). Through pain and suffering united to Him we begin to rest in the resurrected Christ. All we have and require is our faith, which rests on the character of God who we become closer to through Scripture. Abandonment to the plan of God, means we have to abandon our own plans.
It means we have to accept that our relationship with God doesn’t work on our terms but on His. This is an illusion of control, the self-centred control we feel we have over our lives, which we will all have to give up at some point. One that tends to shatter violently especially in those hard times, but we are called to bring all these things to him and He gives us the grace we need to persevere.
Mary said, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word." Luke 1:38
Mary teaches us how to adopt the will of God and leave behind our small plans. She shows us the proper attitude which we all need in order to attain true happiness.
There may be scars and scrapes but we are left with our souls beholding something greater than what our eyes ever had capacity for. We begin to see the fragility of life and lean on a God who offers us eternal peace, joy and love found only in the arms of a loving Father.
“And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.” Matthew 28:20
The Lord in his wisdom may allow us to fall deeper into darkness, for Lazarus it was four days for you it may be two or six. But he does this always with the intention of drawing us closer to himself.
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.
In this Sunday's Gospel we see both God's humanity and divinity. A God who weeps and in his divinity commands and resurrects, reminding us that he is truly man and truly God. It's hard to remember that when our pain isn't relieved quite so miraculously, it's difficult to place God's glory in all of it. God's glory isn't always immediate and for most of us God's glory will be displayed in our fidelity and to the extent at which we embrace our crosses for the sake of Christ.
Lazarus prefigures the resurrection of Christ, who shows all of us the future promise that he holds for all those who hope and believe in him. That's you!
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
May we move away from being startled at God’s love and compassion for us and move into an acceptance in joyful surprise, within the wonder of his passion for us and his desire to be intimately involved with all aspects of our lives. A surrender that that leaves all the bands and cloths behind to behold the face of Christ. Lord, help us to trust in you and persevere in times of pain. Prepare our hearts and keep us always focused on eternal life with you especially in these last days of Lent. Amen.