This morning as I write this column I am in my home office, drinking a cup of coffee. Snow covers everything and I attribute that to Bishop Cunningham putting away his snow shovel over the weekend! Although I must confess I told him that I thought it was safe to do so because there was no measurable snow in the forecast.
As I sit at my desk, I have in view my Boston Red Sox memorabilia and silently am yearning for Opening Day, which is suspended. In fact, that is what life seems like in a certain way: suspended. The Latin origin of the word “suspense” indicates “hung up, doubtful, leave undecided.” I don’t think it is a stretch to say that is how many of us feel these days.
That being said, I think it helps us to relate even more to Jesus’ disciples and friends as they journeyed with him to Jerusalem. They, too, were living in suspense, not necessarily knowing what the next day would bring and the true effect it would have on them. If we read the Gospels with an eye for detail, we notice that Jesus was staying away from crowds and out in the countryside (sound a bit familiar?). In fact, in this Sunday’s Gospel taken from John 11:1-45, we will see that Jesus receives word that “the one you love is ill” (Jn 11:3) — a man named Lazarus, the husband of Martha, the brother-in-law of Mary, close friends of Jesus — and yet, he doesn’t go because he was maintaining social distancing lest he be stoned again and his life put in jeopardy (Jn 11:8)!
I confess that as I write this piece, the Gospel is coming alive in a way I never anticipated. A verse that stands out for me is this one: “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him” (Jn 11:11). Jesus’ disciples are confused by this statement and so Jesus comes out clearly and states that “Lazarus has died” (Jn 11:14). Immediately, the following verse continues with Jesus saying, “And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe” (Jn 11:15).
Since the Word of God relates to its hearers that Jesus calls us “friends” (see Jn 15:15), I can’t help but wonder what needs to be awakened in me? What has died in me and in my relationship with God, with Jesus? In these days of Lenten journey that none of us have ever encountered before, how can you and I move to deeper belief? So sobering is this scene in Jesus’ life to those who would be his followers that Thomas, of all the apostles, says, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). Even in this Sunday’s Gospel, we encounter “a life and death” situation.
In raising Lazarus to new life, Jesus commanded two things: (1) Belief, as seen in Jesus’ dialogue with Martha (Jn 11:21-27); and (2) “Take away the stone” (Jn 11:39). And yet, it is important to note that Jesus is not unaffected by what is going on around him. In the shortest verse of the Gospel writings, we come to know that: “And Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35). He is not impervious to what is going on in the lives of his friends!
What, then, does all of this mean for you and me? For starters, Jesus intimately knows what we are going through right now in our lives and I believe he is inviting us to a closer walk, a closer relationship with him. Remember when I fast forwarded to Easter a few columns ago, I used the walk to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) to describe what could happen if we let him draw near to us — how our faith can be stirred into flame and we can come to know him in the breaking of the bread. Remember, as well, the two disciples’ complaint in that story: “we were hoping” (Lk 24:21). Isn’t this also an echo of Martha and Mary’s own concern: “if you had been here” (Jn 11: 21 & 32)?
In both stories, there is a key moment: giving God, giving the Risen Jesus, giving the Holy Spirit an opening! In the story of Lazarus, it is the removal of the stone at the entrance to the tomb. In the Emmaus journey, it is opening one’s life to God’s presence. I have to ask myself honestly then, what is blocking my relationship with God, with Jesus? Not making time for prayer and for church when I have it available to me? Not listening to God’s Word, but thinking everything has to be my way or I walk away and pout? “I’ll show God who’s in charge!” How about being attentive to what is going on around me and being sensitive to the feelings of others?
I have a lot to think about in terms of this Sunday’s Gospel! I pray that I, and those who read this column, may use this time of social distancing as a time for greater connection with God and neighbor.
I had an interesting experience in the Cathedral on Monday afternoon. While I was praying, all of sudden this thunderous sound started echoing through the empty Cathedral as snow began to cascade off the roof. It continued for a while and I began to think: “I wonder if this is what the stone rolling away from Jesus’ tomb sounded like?!” The sound was a meditation in itself! It reminded me also that the stone did roll away and the tomb was filled with new light. In these days, you and I might feel entombed, but let us not forget the promise of resurrection — of Easter! Let us continue walking with Jesus knowing that his final word is not death, but resurrection! Even in these days, like Martha and Mary, let us live in the hope of resurrection!
Know my prayers continue for all. If you can, join us at youtube.com/syrdio on March 31, April 1, and April 2 at 3 p.m. for our livestreamed Diocesan Lenten Retreat Days: “Walking with Jesus.” God’s blessings and peace to you and your loved ones!