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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Fr. Bob Warren's Week Reflection: Lazarus

Franciscan Friars
(John 11:1-45)

The gospel writer John has constructed a complex story for us. It is like a one act play full of drama that displays a full range of emotions. This is not too surprising because it is dealing with death. The disciples are full of confusion, and why not? Jesus receives word from two sisters that their brother, His close friend Lazarus, is seriously ill. So the disciples prepare to leave, but Jesus says, "Hold it, no hurry." And He hangs around for two more days.
When Jesus finally arrives at Bethany, He finds that Lazarus has died. Lazarus' sister Martha is beside herself, and makes no bones about it. She says to Jesus, "If You had come when You got the message, You could have saved him from dying. Some friend you are." She cannot hide her anger. But she immediately tries to make amends, as she says, though not totally convincingly, "Still, even now, I know that God will hear You if You wish to do something." Note it all seems to become too much for Jesus. The death of a friend. The distraught sisters. The crowd wailing. It clearly upsets Him. On the way to the grave, he breaks down and cries. This is not the suppressed cry of Westerners. No, this is the typical Near East wailing with tears flowing freely, with head tilted to the sky. Then He turns to the tomb where He commands Larazus to come forth. And Lazarus staggers out of the dark of the tomb into the light. Witnesses cannot believe what they see. Jesus speaks those profound, world shaking words, "Untie him and let him go." These are the words we should cling to and remember, for they describe what has happened to our loved ones. In our gospel story, there are, as I said, lots of emotion, shock, disappointment, confusion, anger, grief, hurt and tears. These are also the feelings that so many of us here remember so painfully, when we have lost a loved one.
But pause. Let's go back to Lazarus when Jesus said, "Untie him and let him go free." He was referring to the custom of wrapping bodies in strips of cloth from head to toe until, mummy-like, as it was readied for burial. Do you remember so often every day, every week, every month, we noticed another strip of confinement and diminishment, physical and mental, slowly wrap around our sick loved one. Until one day, little by little, immobile, the last strip was in place. They died, and we wept.
Yet faith tells us that this gospel story of Lazarus was repeated with our loved ones. It tells us that into the moment of death. Beyond our shock, anger, confusion, numbness, and unstoppable tears, the weeping Jesus came along and said with compassion to His angels, "Untie him. Let him go." Untie him. Unwrap these strips from head to toe. One by one, take away the IVs, the tubes, the oxygen, the medicines, the pills, the therapy, the injections, the heart monitor, the chemo, the doctor, the nurses, the hospital. Untie him. Let him go free.
Let him go free, so that he or she can stand new and shining and renewed and enter into the Kingdom.
Yes, the Lazarus story tells us that the physical and mental constructions of death that we so brokenheartedly witnessed were not the last word. The untying was. In a real way, the whole Lazarus incident is a preview of Jesus' death. His mother's unbearable grief, and His crying out to His Father, exactly what Martha and Mary cried out to Him. My Father, if You had been here, I would not have died. I would not be dying like this. My God, why have You abandoned me?
His Father heard and called Him out of the tomb on Easter Sunday and said to His angels, untie Him and let Him go. Take away the nails, take away the thorns, take away the marks of flogging, take away the blood, take away the spit. Let Him go. Let Him go to announce to the world the Good News that death is no longer the last word. It is the next to the last word. After untying, the last word is Life Everlasting.
The Lazarus story is a preview of the coming Jesus story that we will hear at Easter. Both the Lazarus and Jesus stories do carry the themes of death, grief, anger and abandonment, but they also carry the untying. Always the untying. And know this. The same thing that happened to Lazarus, Jesus and our loved ones, will happen to us. In our Creed, we proclaim this conviction when we say, I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
So we, too, are asked to believe. Believe in what? Believe that in the end for Lazarus, for Jesus, for our loved ones, for ourselves, in spite of all the wrappings of death, there is the untying. And after the untying. Freedom forever.
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
GRAYMOOR P.O. Box 301, Garrison, NY 10524
For more information, call us at 888-720-8247.
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