In our Gospel today, we do not hear about the resurrection of Lazarus: we hear of the raising of Lazarus – his resuscitation. In other words: Lazarus was only revived by Jesus – revived in order to finish out his earthly life and finally meet death like all of us. He was given new life: but not the new life of heaven, the new and eternal life we await – no, Lazarus was given new life in this world; he was brought back to life as a mortal man, as the same old Lazarus who still would have to deal with all the trials and challenges of life in this world.
It probably did not take him long, as he stumbled out of that tomb and took in a big breath of the stench around him, to figure out that he was not in heaven. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear anything about what he says after Jesus raises him. I can just imagine him being kind of upset: “What the…?” "So much for milk and honey!" He must have been relieved to find out that he was just resuscitated! And maybe after they got those wrappings off him and gave him a bath he was even grateful to have a few more years to be in this world before the Lord would finally take him home and give him the eternal life for which he truly longed.
Now we have no idea what resurrection will be like: maybe a few glimpses here and there. But in Lazarus, we can gain insight into how Jesus resuscitates his people in this life: about what it is like to be resuscitated. And this insight is critical for us, because unlike the resurrection, which happens once at the end of life and is shrouded in mystery: Jesus wishes to resuscitate us continually in this life in a myriad of different ways: to give us new life, to remove the chains of sin and death from us in this world as we continue our earthly journey. And the season of Lent is especially a time when we ask for and think about this process, this experience of resuscitation, of renewal, of conversion.
So what can we learn from Lazarus’ experience of resuscitation that will help us to be open to the new life Jesus wants to give us?
To be patient. Jesus waited – he did not go right away when he heard of Lazarus’ illness, but waited two days. And notice that no one could really understand why Jesus did not intervene earlier. “If you had been here,” Martha tells him, “my brother would not have died.”
How many of us are tormented in the same way that Martha was – and we ask the Lord “Why haven’t you intervened?” With my children who are struggling, with the illness that my spouse is battling, with the sins that I cannot break free of?
We all, at one point or another ask why God hasn’t resuscitated us or those we love yet. And so listen to Jesus today: When giving new life in this world only God can understand how and why and when. The new life Jesus breathes into this world when he resuscitates us comes from beyond this world and doesn’t conform to the logic of this world, it is beyond our control: mysterious.
And so most of the time we must simply trust, as Martha did: that if we seek what is good and true and beautiful, God will accomplish what is good for us. But as for how and when: that is up to him.
A second lesson to be learned, is that Jesus empathizes with our suffering. He did not stand by like some passive observer as his dear friends mourned for Lazarus. He joined in their tears, he felt their pain. As much as we may feel alone in our sin or in suffering because of the evil in this world, Jesus is never far. He does not withdraw from sharing in our guilt, our shame, our suffering. He embraces us where we are, and he suffers with us, he sheds tears with us.
How important it is for us to remember that when we confess our sins, Jesus not only stands before us as our Lord, but he also stands beside us as our advocate and friend and brother.
A third insight we learn from Lazarus is that Jesus’ compassion for us causes him to act, to resuscitate us, even now. This is the sign of Lazarus, that even now, before the resurrection, we can share partially in the redemption that is to come.
Jesus Christ does not wait until death to give us life: we live in a world permeated by his Holy Spirit, who works within the limitations of time and space to bring heaven to earth in a thousand different ways.
So we should not be content with mediocrity, with settling, trusting that things will get worked out at the end of life – sitting back and waiting for the final judgment with dread or foolish confidence. No, Jesus wants to intervene now in our lives, just as he intervened with Lazarus. He does not want us to wait for his life until the Resurrection, but even now he gives us a taste of that new life and freedom of heaven. What are the sacraments, if not one of the principle ways that Jesus gives us the life of heaven even while we still live in this world? We Christians have been given the bread from heaven, and we should settle for nothing less, not even in this world.
A final lesson of our gospel? To recognize, as Lazarus surely did, that there is a great difference between resuscitation and resurrection. We must remember that we live in a world where the stench of death still remains, the wrappings of sin still remain.
As much as we should settle for nothing less than a share of heaven, we must also recognize the limitations on earth. Even after he was resuscitated, Lazarus came out of that tomb wrapped in smelly rags, blind, and unable to do much.
Lazarus shows us that resuscitation - that conversion - does not mean the end of suffering and pain, like resurrection. In fact, sometimes it can mean that we suffer more for a time, as we begin the hard work of removing the bonds of sin that have been killing us. And so, like Lazarus, we need the help of the Church, of the sacraments and of one another to heal from the effects of our sin after Jesus has resuscitated us. And sometimes that can be a long process.
Today let us ask for the intercession of Lazarus and pray with him:
Lord, please save us from the death of sin, not only for ourselves, but for the good of our families, our community, our parish. During this season of Lent come to us as you came to Lazarus. Reach out to us where sin and evil have kept us bound and in the darkness. May the beauty of your eternal life shine through thousands of little resuscitations in our parish this lent, bringing glory to our Heavenly Father.