John 11:1-45, Fifth Sunday of Lent
Years ago I shared the story of two friends who fought together in World War I under the British forces. The story originally came from C. F. Andrews, an early 20th century Anglican priest, educator, social reformer and close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.
“C. F. Andrews tells of two friends who served together in the First World War. One of them was wounded and left lying helpless and in pain in no-man’s-land. The other, at peril of his life, crawled out to help his friend; and, when he reached him, the wounded man looked up and said simply: ‘I knew you would come.’” (as told by William Barclay)
Today’s readings, the Fifth and final Sunday of Lent, are eloquent expressions of this faith we have in Christ – “I knew you would come.”
The Raising of Lazarus is one of the most well-known Gospel stories, very often used at funeral and wake Masses. It is, however, more than a reflection on death and is an inspiration to live a life of spiritual freedom rooted in a core reality of our faith.
The name Lazarus literally means “God is my help.” The name speaks of the essential character of our faith: “I knew you would come.”
In many conversations I have had the past years, and even more pronounced the past months, with partners in my work with public schools, we saw the growing inequality between the few who have more in life and the many who have very little.
In several studies made the past few years, the youth in the peripheries of Philippine society, who represent 80% of their group, have a very clear sense of and value for their family. This is brought about by seeing how their parents suffer and struggle to provide for them.
In one of the seminars I conducted, a participant after doing an exercise on his most important blessing in life shared with me how he realized after a successful 30-year plus career that it all came back to family.
I noted the youth in the peripheries realized this at an early age. Perhaps they, in their “poverty,” realized very early in life its true riches; what we reflected on last Sunday as what is essential, that which can only be seen from the eyes of the heart and soul, from the eyes of love – the love of family.
It is they who are the Lazaruses of our society, “God is my help.”
This Sunday we see this in Martha. When Lazarus fell ill, Martha and Mary send word to Christ, but as the narratives tells us, Christ does not come immediately. Lazarus dies.
When Christ arrives in Bethany, Martha goes out to meet him. She does not blame him, but is simply glad to see him in their moment of loss and grief. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
In the experience of death, the most painful and alienating human experience, Martha goes to the core, the most essential, that even in death “God is my help.”
It is in this essential core that Christ and Martha confront the even more essential, the most essential question of our faith – do you believe in the Resurrection? It is in here that Martha makes her deepest confession of faith that she believes we will all rise again in the resurrection of the dead.
Then Christ brings this faith deeper and gives us one of the early assurances to make us believe in him as our Lord and Savior – “I knew you would come.”
Christ declares “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Then Martha, likewise, deepens her faith: “She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’”
“God is my help.” “I knew you would come.” These are the deepest essential elements of our core as Christians and as human beings.
It is in poverty, material, yes, as the starting point, but leading to the poverty of spirit that we attain spiritual freedom where we experience that “God is my help” and where we confess to God, to Christ, “I knew you would come.”
This is the poverty of mission, of obedience to God’s will for us. Christ on the eve of his fulfilling his mission radically confesses the same faith, “Not my will, but your will be done,” and thus he becomes a Lazarus, “God is my help.”
And at the final moments, he continues to struggle, “My God, my God, what have you forsaken me.” Then he makes the definitive confession of faith, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” “It is finished.”
In that final moment, Christ offers everything, with great love. Perhaps he breathes his last and meeting his Father he tells him, “I knew you would come.”