In Lazarus There is Life in Death through Jesus
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Fr. Mike Galbraith
Last Sunday's gospel reading was about light and darkness; today's is about life and death. We can expect a similar paradoxical treatment of them from John. It was dangerous for Jesus to go to Judea again; the authorities were determined to seize him. When he decided nevertheless to go there, Thomas said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." So, Jesus faced death to give life to Lazarus. This is John showing us the meaning of Jesus' life, or applying the first brushstroke in this scene.
Life or death is not exactly paradoxical, but a disjunction; the paradox is life in death. Johann Tauler (1300 – 1361) wrote: “If only we could seek joy in sadness, peace in trouble, simplicity in multiplicity, comfort in bitterness! This is the way to become true witnesses to God.” Life in death is what we are going to see in this gospel scene. To make it quite clear that we are not dealing with a disjunction but with a paradox, he tells us that Lazarus has been unmistakably dead for four days.
We spend our life trying to avoid even the thought of death. When we do think about it we think thoughts like: "it will defeat me utterly, it will destroy everything I tried to do." The 'enemy', then, is not only out there; our worst 'enemy' is within.
This is not the way a Christian thinks about it. The death of Christ shapes our consciousness of death. St Paul wrote that we are "baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3). The word 'baptized' means 'plunged'. "By baptism we have been buried with him into death." This is not running away from death and the thought of death. It seems more like running towards it. Why? Because "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." The place of death is the place of resurrection. The resurrection is not an alternative to death; rather it is in death that resurrection is to be found. We are delivered from the crippling fear of death and of everything that reminds us of it. This frees us to live.
Life in death, Lazarus is in every disciple.