March 29, 2020: Fifth Sunday of Lent - Pastor’s Corner
Jesus wept. John 11:35 is the briefest, if not one of the most poignant verses in all of Scripture. Contextualized within the dramatic account of the raising of Lazarus that we hear this weekend, Jesus shares this tender, tearful moment with his treasured friend Martha. Jesus’ tears reveal both God’s compassion and how we ought to face the reality of our mortality. Christ weeps to show us how God’s grieving fills our heart with hope.
Our story begins with Jesus’ late arrival to the scene. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has already died. At first glance, this tardiness seems curious. If Bethany is only 2 miles away from Jerusalem, we wonder: why does Jesus wait 4 days until after Lazarus is buried before he makes the journey? Doesn’t he care about his friend? Similarly, we might ask: where is God in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic? Jesus may seem at a distance from us. The question of God’s presence in the face of darkness is perennial.
Two spiritual principles emerge from this curious delay. First, Jesus’ tardiness provides the opportunity to manifest his divine power. If he had raised Lazarus from his death bed immediately, the skeptic might wonder if Lazarus was truly dead. Waiting 4 days after burial removes any doubt as to the authenticity of the ensuing miracle. In fact, the same folks who seek Jesus’ life also endanger Lazarus once he is raised from the dead, because Lazarus’ living presence is a witness to Christ’s power. Second, Jesus’ delay reveals God’s attitude towards suffering and death. In the face of his loss, Jesus weeps. These tears from our divine savior teach us that mourning is not simply a human emotion, but also, God’s first response to death. Death was not an original part of God’s plan for us. Death is the consequence for sin, and Jesus’ reaction reminds us of the profundity of God’s love (e.g., the verb turbatio which St. John uses to describe Jesus’ state of mind in this moment is the same verb that is used to describe the storm which Jesus calms on the Sea of Galilee). Even though Jesus knows that he will raise Lazarus from the dead; nevertheless, death stirs a storm in his soul, his heart is “churned up,” and he grieves. And in this grief, he gives us permission to mourn our own losses, to recognize that death is not what God wants for us and gives us a glimpse into the unfathomable depths of God’s compassion.
But this is not the end. Jesus’ tears are not without effect. Love is stronger than death. Approaching the grave, Jesus lifts up his gaze to the Father, gives thanks, and cries out to Lazarus: “Come, out!” Life emerges from the grave. As Lazarus emerges from the grave, he casts a bright foreshadow of Christ’s own resurrection. Just as Lazarus is unfettered from his burial shroud, so we too live in the promise that Christ has the power to loose our sins, to reconcile us with our loving Father, and to raise us to eternal life. This is the hope which allows us to continue as we struggle with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Even in this moment, we recognize that Christ is with us in our darkness and grief. He weeps. But for those who believe, these daily veil of tears forms the river which leads to our heavenly harbor.
Keep calm. Keep safe. Keep close to Christ.