March 26, 2017

Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Lent | The Raising of Lazarus, "Untie Him and Let Him Go." John 11:1-45

The raising of Lazarus

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (A) April 2, 2017

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

"Untie him and let him go." (John 11: 44) 

Nearing the end of the season of Lent, the Church this Sunday is knocking at the door of Holy Week (which begins next Sunday, April 9, with Palm Sunday), seeking entrance to the events that together form the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the annual reminder of God’s love for His people!

During Holy Week, the faithful will visit the Upper Room during the Passover. At this meal, Jesus takes bread and wine and declares it to be His body and blood, which will be poured out for the many. Good Friday is the next stop on the journey. Kneeling at the foot of the cross, the people of God will adore that wood on which their Savior died. The story does not end there! At the Easter Vigil Mass, the people will stand in awe and wonder at the empty tomb. Jesus is risen! Alleluia!

Through Jesus Christ, God has conquered all sin, suffering, and death. While all of these realities are part of our lives, they will not have the final say. The final chapter of the book is hope! Through His passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus has carried all of humanity’s sins, suffering, and death, including yours and mine. The path to eternal life goes through the Upper Room, to the cross at Golgotha, and stops at the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. The lives of Jesus’ followers have meaning, life, and hope because the Word who became flesh at Christmas now has suffered, died, and risen from the dead. The celebration of Holy Week is the most important week of the liturgical calendar and every Christian should make it a priority to celebrate these mysteries in their respective parishes.

The Gospel for this final Sunday of Lent is a microcosm of the journey of Holy Week, and thus is quite fitting for those banging at the door of Holy Week. It is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Recall that Jesus is friends with Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary. At Lazarus’ death, Jesus makes His way to Bethany to console Martha and Mary. Martha and Jesus have a conversation outside the village in which Martha professes Jesus to be the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus weeps as He nears the tomb of Lazarus. Having been warned of the stench of death if the stone is removed from the entrance of the tomb, Jesus orders it moved anyway. He cries out to Lazarus who came forth from the tomb wrapped in his burial cloth. “Untie him,” Jesus said, “and let him go.”

You are Lazarus! Your sin, suffering, and death binds you in much the same way as death bound Lazarus. Sinfulness controls the human heart and soul, holding it prisoner. The scourge of suffering, whether it is mental, physical, or emotional, is the result of the human condition. It can drive the person to despair and hopelessness. Wallowing in the pain, one can feel bound as Lazarus. Sin and suffering ultimately lead to death, where there is no hope.

That is not the end of the story! There is hope because Jesus intervenes. He orders the stone rolled back. There is a stench that emanates from the tomb, the horrid smell of death. Jesus, who is God Himself in the human person, does not avoid that stench. He is not afraid of it but walks right to it. Jesus is close to His people. Sinfulness and suffering are the effects of the raw human condition that plagues everyone. That condition does not scare off the Lord! He has come to be united with His people, to bring hope, forgiveness, new life, and ultimately to get rid of that which causes the stench.

Finally, Jesus orders Lazarus to be untied and let go. He is free of sin, suffering, and death. The stench is no longer filling his nostrils. Free to live, Lazarus walks this earth once again. And so, too, Jesus frees all of His people from sin, suffering, and death. The Catholic faith is based on the hope of the resurrection. To Holy Week each person brings that which binds him, asking Jesus to nail it to His cross. Stand in awe and wonder at that empty tomb on Easter Sunday and realize that you are Lazarus, and from your den of stench and death you too will walk away, unbound, free, to live with God for all of eternity. Now, that’s real hope! Don’t be afraid to bang away at the door of Holy Week! You must be allowed to enter the most sacred moment of the year, that you might be a person of hope and new life. Jesus is risen! Alleluia!

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