Today’s Gospel story of the death of Lazarus is a very touching and relevant one for us as we live through the covid-19 global health crisis.
Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary were friends of Jesus. Jesus had visited their home and eaten at their table. When Lazarus falls seriously ill his sisters sent word to Jesus asking him to come and heal their brother. For a number of reasons Jesus didn’t immediately go to Bethany but arrived after Lazarus had died.
Mary, Lazarus’ sister, greets Jesus with what seems to be both anger and hope, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus very quickly moves beyond the anger and blaming that he hears in Mary’s greeting and tells her, “Your brother will rise again.” Then Jesus goes to the tomb where Lazarus has been buried and calls Lazarus to come out and Lazarus walks out of the tomb wrapped like a mummy. (Just an aside: Jesus is first seen as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and after his resurrection his burial wrappings are found folded in the tomb).
The covid-19 crisis has come to us radically changing our lives and relationships. We may be angry because of the losses, the kinds of deaths, that have touched us. We may grieve because of the limitations on our freedom of movement or accessibility to the things that we take for granted, loss of income, the loss of Mass and the places in which we usually gather to pray and worship. We may be angry, and like Mary, we try to place the blame. We might say to ourselves or to others, If something had been done sooner, we would have been saved all this, we aren’t doing enough, or you are asking too much of us.
But today’s Gospel invites us to move beyond the anger and anxiety we may feel and offers us hope. That hope, of course, is Jesus Christ, who says to Mary in her grief, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” As a sign of this truth Jesus restores Lazarus to life so that the crowd would believe that he was sent by God.
There is a sense, however, that this miracle isn’t complete yet because Jesus turns to the crowd and pointing to Lazarus, who had died, says to them and to us, , “Unbind him, and let him go.” In this time of crisis Jesus, promises us life, asks us to set each other free so that all people may live their lives to the fullest in this world until they are called to eternal life in the world that is to come. We can do that by taking the precautions necessary to safeguard our health and the health of others, by being attentive to the needs of others, especially the most vulnerable, and by praying for each other, for those who are sick and for those who risk their lives by providing essential services to us.
The comfort and hope in this is that we are not alone. We have each other and we have Jesus, who is with us until the end of time. So, let me close by offering you a musical meditation. This is a hymn that was put on Facebook by a friend of mine. It was sung last summer in a Mennonite church. The Mennonites are a Christian community, who despite the rejection and persecution they experienced over the years have continued to be a forgiving, peaceful and hope–filled people because they know that they were not alone. (There may be an ad at the beginning) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OviilwuJVtE&fbclid=IwAR1GUonQMsu8bgqHB_YKjOJyudz2uORU8SUDiclxFvxGU3FoIlzre7iRMVI
Norm Tanck, CSB