In John’s Gospel this weekend, we hear the familiar story of Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha.
Lazarus was a good friend of Jesus of Nazareth. So good a friend, in fact, that when Lazarus fell ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus—hoping that Jesus would come to work a miracle and restore Lazarus to full health.
You know the story: Jesus didn’t come. Rather, he continued on the road, preaching along the way. By the time he reached the hill town of Bethany, on the east side of the Mount of Olives, Lazarus had been dead for four days, and the entrance to his burial cave had been sealed. His grief-stricken sisters were borderline rude to Jesus, admonishing him because had he been there, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus replied with the well-known statement, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me shall live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die in eternity”.
Then, Jesus did the unthinkable: He called for the stone to be moved away.
Then, MORE unthinkable: He called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
And MOST unthinkable: Lazarus walked out of the tomb, still wrapped in his burial garment.
I think of the hapless Lazarus—dead for one, two, three, FOUR days, and then… Whiz Bam Shaboom!… coming back, back, back to life, sitting up, walking out, wrapped in bandages, fully alive again. What a joyride that must have been for him! Where had he been during those four days? Oh, the stories he must have told Martha and Mary as they sat beside the fire!
Lazarus was propelled by the power of God back to life—back to a second chance: a second chance to savor the sunset, a second chance to say “I love you” to the people who meant the most to him, a second chance to do God’s will in his rising and in his falling asleep.
The evangelist leaves a lot to our imaginations here. He doesn’t tell us how Lazarus felt at having been the recipient of this singularly transcendent miracle; but he must have been filled with gratitude and wonder.
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This great God of Second Chances heals us, too. When we have sinned and fallen out of God’s grace, he restores us to life in the Sacrament of Reconciliation—drawing us out of the malaise of sin and back, back to new life in Christ.
It is a restoration that we too easily take for granted—and yet it is no less dramatic that the God of the Universe reaches down and swoops us out of our sin and, with the priest’s words of absolution, catapults us back to full life in the mystical body of Christ.
Let us take the opportunity in these last weeks of Lent to be drawn back to life in Him.
Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.