Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 9, 2008

Ezekiel 37: 12-14

Romans 8: 8-11

John 11: 1-45

Word of Explanation:
The story of Lazarus is the seventh 'sign' in the first book of the Gospel according to John. It is the last word concerning the revelation of Jesus to the world. At the same time, the death and resurrection of Lazarus foretells the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a hinge text between the two books.

We are not told about Lazarus' death, but of his resurrection. The death of Jesus, on the contrary, will be recounted at length, not his resurrection. The sign accomplished by Jesus will be accomplished in himself, in his resurrection which remains forever ineffable.

The one who can say: I am the resurrection and the life will himself experience death, give his life and receive it from the Father in order to make a gift of it for us.

Jesus has just finished a long discourse in which he presents himself as the Good Shepherd who has come that they may have life in abundance. The sign he gives in raising up Lazarus shows that he really has power over death. The episode mixes resolution and revelation: it passes from the sickness and death of Lazarus to the revelation of Jesus' identity.

The narrative of the resurrection of Lazarus is not an exception in the Bible. Elijah brings the widow of Sarepta's son back to life (1 K 17, 17-24), Elisha gives life back to the son of the Shunamite (2 K 4, 18-37), Peter to Tabitha (Acts 9, 36-42) and Paul to Eutichus (Acts, 20, 9ss). But in the story of St. John, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days, the signs of death are already there and it is the word of Jesus which makes him come out of the tomb.

Jesus is certainly the protaganist in the story. He is placed in relationship with each of the actors and makes the events move forward. First, he gives the disciples the meaning of Lazarus' sickness, and then, by delaying his arrival in Bethany and by the dialogue with Martha, followed by his attitude of compassion with regard to the mourning bystanders. Lastly, his words before the tomb which command the resurrection of Lazarus. But the narrative does not end on this note; it opens onto another event that the liturgy does not offer us: the death of Jesus that the Pharisees and High Priests decide on.

In his prayer before the tomb, Jesus reveals another presence: that of the Father who sent him, with whom he shows himself in deep intimacy and communion. The life which belongs to the Father is given to the Son who, in turn, can give it. The Son does not ask for the resurrection of Lazarus, but thanks the Father for having heard him. Jesus is revealed, then, as more than a prophet, as truly the Lord.

The one who can say: I am the Resurrection and the Life, is going to undergo the fundamental and ultimate exprience that binds all the members of humanity: death. He has assumed the human condition in all its dimensions, totally, till the end. It follows, then, that his Resurrection is not the equivalent of immortality and that living is not identical with not dying. There is something that death cannot destroy, even when it is final. Dying on the cross, Jesus is not the Resurrection because he owns his life, but because he gives it and receives it from the Father. Henceforward, it can be a gift for all.

If death is fully assumed by Jesus, it is not in order to praise it. The sad reality of death is very present in the narrative in the tears and mourning. The certitude of the resurrection does not prevent pain and its expression. Even Jesus joins in the mourning of those close to Lazarus and he is deeply affected by it. Jesus faces death, that of Lazarus and his own, as he decries it.

Lord, give us the grace of compassion for all those who mourn, the grace of mingling our tears with theirs. Give us also the courage to give meaning to our lives that is not founded on dreams of bypassing death and our human limitations, but on faith in the resurrection. And may our daily commitments be a combat to make life triumph over death, love over all that dehumanizes.


—Sophie Ramond, R.A.