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The tomb of St. Lazarus in Larnaca Cyprus

When was the last time you wept? 5th Lent A

When was the last time you wept? And what were the tears for?

John takes a long time to tell his stories, especially the stories of Jesus’ miracles. And he fills in a lot of the visual details, so much so, that you think he was trying to make us picture ourselves in the scenes. We have seen that the last two weeks. We are easily able to picture the story of the woman at the well and the man born blind. And now John would have us imagine ourselves in this final story of Jesus’ in three places, three moments of this final sign in his gospel.

  • In the tears that are shed
  • In the figure of the bound Lazarus
  • In the response of Jesus to death.

In the tears…
There is a lot of weeping going on in this story. Lazarus was a beloved figure, apparently. John is careful to record that MANY of the Jews came out to console Martha and Mary. Mary weeps. The crowd weeps. Jesus himself weeps. (one of two places where the gospels record Jesus’ tears.) There is a lot of weeping going on.

Washington Irving once wrote: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”

I suspect we all know this in some way or the other. The tears we experience are messengers to us – often of grief and contrition, but sometimes of a love beyond words – like when you are holding your first child, or when he pops the question. When our Lord weeps – we need to pay attention… for all that brings tears to our Lord needs to find a place in our hearts. So, what brings you to tears these days? Spend some time listening to those messengers – of grief, of contrition, of love. And let them move you, like they moved our Lord to some concrete action.

Secondly, John is careful to describe the newly raised Lazarus as still being bound by the burial wrappings. You can ‘see him’ shuffling out, like some half freed monster from a horror movie. And Jesus bids others: UNTIE HIM AND LET HIM GO FREE. Lazarus needs the community to free him from the remnants of the tomb. WE need the community to untie us and let us go free.

I have this image of Jesus – sending people into our lives to unwrap us. A person with more patience than we have here – to teach us patience. Another person comes with great hope over there when ours seems gone. A third arrives with forgiveness like a shield before them inviting us to let go of our burden of bitterness. Will you let them in? In your prayer – put yourself in the place of Lazarus, emerging confusedly from the tomb. Who are the people that Jesus has sent/is sending in your life to set you free? Allow yourself their tender ministrations. Pray with Lazarus: “Untie me and let me go free.”

Finally, John would have us see ourselves in the person of Jesus, specifically in his response to death. Twice we are told that Jesus is ‘perturbed’ – disturbed – literally a physical reaction to the scene before him – with the sense almost of snorting in indignation. And both times, the same thing perturbs him: Death. The sight of all those mourning without hope, the stone rolled over the tomb of his friends elicits this visceral reaction in him. As if to say: This is not right. This grief, this sorrow, this lack of life, this tomb – it is not how it should be. And the Lord of LIFE reacts with the passion of God himself – anger, struggle, indignation. Death is not how this world was created to be. Sorrow, though as real as the tears that he himself sheds over Lazarus’ death, is not the goal of creation. And from the depth of his spirit comes a series of commands – “Take away the stone.” “Lazarus, come out.” “Untie him and let him go.” That is what moves in the heart of a savior – the utter conviction that death has no place among the living.
Spend some time before that image of our savior this week. Let him root out all that is wrapping you in death, all that keeps your heart small; all that traps you in the tomb of sin. Let him call YOU from death to life.

Tears.
bindings.
things that perturb the heart.
May they be for us this week, and invitation to let the Lord of life into our life…

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