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The Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 7, 2019

 

 
      Now Jesus was greatly distressed, and with a profound sigh he said: “Where have you put him?”
      “Sir, come and see”
      And Jesus wept.
      And in a loud voice he cried “Lazarus, come out”
      And the dead man came out, with his hands and feet bound.
      And Jesus said “Unbind him. Let him go free.”
 
      “And Jesus wept.”  “Unbind him let him go free.” There are no other phrases in all the gospels more consoling that these. Or more revelatory.
 
      We have heard the story of the raising of Lazarus a hundred times; on this Sunday each year, at almost every Christian funeral we attend. And when we hear it at the funerals of our loved ones, we desperately try to cling to Martha’s declaration of faith and make it our own. She says: “I know that my brother will rise, at the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus’ response is simple and sure: no waiting until the last day. “I am the resurrection and the life; anyone who believes in me, even though they die, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” He himself is the promise and fulfillment of the promise of everlasting life.
 
      Yet going to the place where his friend lies buried, Jesus was greatly distressed, and sighed deeply. And Jesus wept.
 
      That sigh, those tears, are the truest sign, the absolute sacrament of his humanity. Jesus, son of the living God, is also Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, who ate at the home of his friends Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. And Jesus wept for the pain of those sisters, for the tragedy of their brother’s death, and for the pain of every human loss, his own included. He wept for the fragility of our human condition, for the losses we all have to endure, for the shortness of our days, and for the certainty of our death.
      
      And as he wept at Lazarus’ tomb, he wept for himself, for what he knew was to come in Jerusalem. He wept out of his own fears, his own frailty, his own mortality. He wept because like Lazarus, he would himself have to face the great darkness, the deepest mystery of our existence, the mystery of death.

      Yet God’s power moved in him and through him, and faithful son that he was, faithful friend that he was, he allowed that power to flow through him.  God had promised Ezekiel to raise up the children of Israel out of their graves, and to fill them with the Spirit of Life. Jesus summoned that power from within himself, and so cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
 
      And the dead man come out, with his hands and feet bound.
 
      There are so many things that bind us: the silken ribbons of affection, joy and hopeful tenderness; the heavy ropes of sorrow, disappointment, disillusionment. We are bound by our responsibilities, our ambitions, by our selfishness, and most of all by our fears. And most fearful of all the fears that bind us is the inevitability of our own death.
 
      And Jesus said: “Unbind him and set him free.” At that very moment, with those sweet words, Jesus finally, fully embraces his mission. He has come not to chastise us, but to give us hope, not to bind us, but to set us free. He knows in that moment that the only way finally to convince us of this offered freedom is to pass through the dark door himself, to fully experience our sorrows, our suffering, and even our death with us.
 
      Jesus wept, for Lazarus, for us, and on his way to Calvary, he wept for himself. He wept for the fragility of our human condition, for the losses we all have to endure, for the shortness of our days and the certainty of our death. On the cross as he gave us spirit over to God, he embraced the fullness and the emptiness of our mortal humanity.
 
      Jesus closed his eyes on the cross in hope that he would awaken again and hear the tender voice of the Father saying, “Unbind him, and set him free.”
 
      Let this be our Lenten prayer: “Unbind us, Lord, and set us free.”

Father Tom Lucas, SJ

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303