Reflection on the raising of Lazarus

Some of the key words in today’s Gospel are, “come out”; “untie him”; “let him go free”, in what I believe, is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever worked.

Let us go back to the graveside and stand near the 12 apostles, and let us watch carefully for ourselves.

As Jesus approaches the tomb, Martha puts in a word of caution, “Lord, by now he will smell, this is the fourth day.” (John 11:39). At the tomb Christ calls out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out”. It had to be a loud voice, because Christ was calling beyond the grave.

We strain our necks, and look inside. There he is, wriggling in the shroud.

Untie him”.  A neighbour goes into the tomb and unties him. Lazarus sits up, he does not know where he is. He yawns, rubs his eyes, is helped to his feet, and staggers out into the light. He is barely out of the tomb, when two women are hanging round his neck, crying, this time for joy.

When the confusion and commotion dies down, Martha and Mary take him home from the graveyard. He is still a bit wobbly in the legs. This in no ordinary funeral. It is not every day that the meal after the funeral is attended by the dead man, back from the grave.

Inside the house I would love to ask Lazarus a few questions, but there is no chance with the crowd pushing and shoving. I would to ask him, “were you in heaven?” “Are you glad or sad to be back?” “What is it like beyond the grave?” However we must move on. As we leave Lazarus, Martha and Mary, the celebrations go on all night.

Death, transition, rebirth are around us everywhere in nature. Autumn is a season of dying. Winter, the season of death. Spring, the season of new life, rising out of the graves of Winter.

For pre-Christian Ireland, nature in the form of the “Cailleach”, or old woman, was supposed to die in Winter. But she was born again in Spring as the “babóg” in the form of a child. This echoes our own Christian belief of death and resurrection.

Death for all of us is a rite of passage from time to eternity.

Like the trees or the flowers we to carry a seed, a Divine seed. St. Paul puts it very well in the second Reading today, “He who raised Jesus from the dead, will give life to your mortal bodies.” (Romans 8:11)

One day the old garment of the flesh will wear out, wither and die, and go back to earth, like the fallen leaves in Autumn time. But the soul, the seed of God in all of us, will move on to the next phase. It will cross the grave and will flower in the Spring time fields of heaven, ….if….if…. we have earned the rite of passage.

A few years ago I was in the room of a dying priest. A quotation, framed on the wall near his bed, caught my eye. It read, “we simplify our lives, we travel with less.” A few days later he died, and all he travelled with, back to his God, were the good deeds he did as a Christian, as a Priest.

The Euro or credit card won’t cross the grave. Did you ever see people putting a cheque book or credit card into a coffin? Beyond the grave we need a new currency, a heavenly bank account, the one spoken of by Christ in Matthew 6:20, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Let God be our Banker, and let us top up our heavenly account every day, so that when death comes we will have earned the rite of passage.

We began with the words of Christ to Lazarus, “come out;” “untie him”; “let him go free”; let us finish with them. May we too, one day, hear these words from God:

come out” from the tomb of time; from the darkness of the grave.

untie them”  from the fetters of death; from the bandages of pain and illness.

let them go free”  from the chains of human frailty; from the rags of the flesh.

To these words may God add two more words:  “welcome home.”

– Fr Tim Carroll SMA, Emeritus Vicar Apostolic of Kontagora, Nigeria